Alameda Business Buzz: Happy holidays

Alameda Business Buzz: Happy holidays

Janice Worthen

Trees for sale at Crystal River Xmas Trees on Park Street. Photo by Janice Worthen.

You probably don’t need to be told that this is the last shopping weekend before Christmas. The holiday craze is at its peak: Traffic is a snarl, the sidewalks are packed with people, and many pockets are filled with crumpled to-do lists.

This final weekend can test the strongest holiday spirit, but as the holiday stress crescendos, there’s one holiday tradition that can defuse my irritation instantly: Christmas trees. These cheerful holiday sentinels peeking from the windows of many Island homes and businesses bring back a flood of childhood memories and restore my holiday spirit enough that I’ll even submit to overplayed Christmas songs on the radio.

When I was a kid, my parents would take me to a Christmas tree lot every year to pick out a real tree. I preferred the tiny, somewhat ugly trees my dad called “Charlie Brown trees.” In my child’s mind, I didn’t want them to be left out, and I was fully convinced that the decorations more than made up for any defects in volume or branch density on the part of the tree. The way my sister and I decorated, one couldn’t see much of the tree afterwards anyway. As I got older, my family made the transition to artificial trees. This meant no more trips to the tree lot and no more natural pine smell permeating the house.

For years, I used an artificial tree myself, but I always missed the real ones. This year, after researching the real vs. artificial tree debate and visiting the numerous lots around town, I decided to return to the real thing.

The argument for artificial trees includes such points as they’re easier, create less of a mess, present a lower fire risk, and reduce tree waste, but proponents of real trees make some good counterpoints. For one, Christmas trees are actually a crop and almost all are grown sustainably on farms, which means forests aren’t depleted by the industry. Real trees are also completely biodegradable and recyclable, where artificial trees are usually manufactured overseas out of materials that are harder to dispose of. Artificial trees may have cut into the profits of the real Christmas tree industry, but there’s still a viable market for the real deal.

The origin of the Christmas tree can be traced back to Germany in the 16th century, but the first commercial use of the Christmas tree is believed to have taken place in 1851 when farmer Mark Carr sold trees in New York City. Since then, the U.S. has become a leading producer of Christmas trees.

According to the National Christmas Tree Association, there are almost 15,000 Christmas tree farms in the United States, and 25 to 30 million trees are sold annually; the industry employs over 100,000 people. The value of the industry seems to be under debate, with the figure for annual sales changing according to the source.

The National Christmas Tree Association announced that consumers in their 2013 survey reported buying 33 million real trees with a retail value of about $1.16 billion. However, according to the USDA’s Census of Agriculture, which is conducted every five years, there were about 17.3 million trees cut from U.S. farms in 2012, with total sales reaching about $305 million.

Oregon, Washington, North Carolina, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin produce the most Christmas trees in the nation, and California is the largest market for trees grown in the Pacific Northwest.

Here on the Island, there are a variety of lots to choose from including two tree lots on Park Street: Crystal River Xmas Trees and Wonderland Trees. Pagano’s Hardware at Alameda South Shore Center and Nob Hill Foods in the Bridgeside Shopping Center also sell trees, though I noticed this week that Nob Hill is out. And Alameda Christian School has been running a tree lot in their playground every year for the past 40 years to raise funds for the school.

Crystal River Xmas Trees, located at 1655 Park Street, is a family-run business. Owner Dale Pine has operated his Alameda lot for five years; his friend was in the business and got him involved in it. Pine’s trees, which include silver tips and noble firs, come from the Noble Mountain Tree Farm in Oregon. His lot also sells miniature trees, mistletoe, wooden snowmen, and wreaths.

Wonderland Trees, located at 1813 Park Street, is within walking distance of Pine’s lot and is also a family-owned business. It was founded by Tommy Speer Jr. in 2008. The Speer family has a lot in Emeryville and another Alameda lot, at 1750 Ferry Point. They sell noble, Douglas, Nordmann, grand, and silver firs that are grown on a farm in Southern Oregon. Wonderland Trees also offers delivery and installation.

Alameda Christian School sells noble, Nordmann, and grand firs they order from a tree farm in Oregon. Principal Ron Postma said they sell about 250 trees each year, and their profit was $4,000 last year. Any trees that are not sold are used for mulch.

Postma said that, in addition to raising funds for the school, the tree lot brings their community closer together. The lot is run by volunteers, mostly parents. Postma said another benefit of doing the lot is seeing loyal customers who “return with smiles on their face looking for that special tree.”

I purchased my tree from Alameda Christian School, and it is an adorable five-foot noble. I managed to fit it in my trunk, but most of the lots in town offer to load the tree and prepare it at the lot by making a fresh cut to the base and a trim of unruly branches. With a little planning, buying a real tree is easier and cheaper than I expected, and the tree certainly adds a special glow to my home.

Disposal of the tree after Christmas is also easy. Alameda County Industries provides free curbside pickup of trees from December 26 to January 26. ACI advises customers to remove decorations from the tree, cut it in half if it is longer than six feet, and not place trees in a bag or plastic.

Alameda’s Boy Scout Troop 11 has also been providing tree pickup every year since 1972 to raise funds for troop expenses. They are accepting pickup orders until noon on January 2, at a cost of $5 for trees that are six feet and under. They recommend paying $10 to $20 for trees that are larger. Trees must be placed on the curb with a tag the troop provides by 8 a.m. January 3. You can place your order for pickup by phone, at 610-0348, or online at

Around Town

Park Street and Beyond: Park Street businesses surpassed their $2,000 goal for the Alameda Education Foundation’s Adopt-a-Classroom program during their Shop & Dine event last month. Stephanie Prothero of the Park Street Business Association said the association will donate $500 each to a list of classrooms that need additional support.

Alameda Civic Ballet will be performing The Nutcracker at 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at Kofman Auditorium, 2200 Central Avenue. You can purchase tickets online at or at the door.

Santa is making his final visit to Park Street on Saturday. He will be at Tucker’s Ice Cream at 1 p.m., Lola’s Chicken Shack at 2 p.m. and Lost City Antiques at 4 p.m. In between noon and 4 p.m., when he’s not at a business, he’ll be roaming the Park Street district.

Park Street Business Association announced that Megan Small Photography, Gallagher & Lindsey Realtors, and Pippa & Co. won the Holiday Windows 2014 contest for best holiday window displays. Judges walked the Park Street area making a list of businesses with holiday displays and then asked Facebook followers to vote for their favorites.

Alameda Theatre & Cineplex will hold its Sixth Annual New Year’s Eve Family Carnival Night at 7 p.m. on New Year’s Eve. Admission is $17, and activities include face painting, carnival games, pinball (machines provided by Pacific Pinball Museum), and a wheel of prizes. A magician and clowns will be providing live entertainment, and there will be a special “Best of ‘Alameda’s Got Talent’ Kids” show. Guests can choose among four movie choices and watch the ball drop at midnight. Three grand prize winners will get a one-year pass to Alameda Theatre. 2317 Central Avenue; 769-3456.

Alameda Cinema Grill is now open, offering movie fans unique viewing and dining options. Diners can purchase movie tickets to the Alameda Theatre from their table, and the restaurant has a passageway, or “backstage pass,” that allows customers to take their drinks directly into the theater. Customers also have the option of reserving select seats in the theater from which they can order food and drinks via a mobile app.

The restaurant serves comfort food favorites, local wine and microbrews, and Hollywood-inspired craft cocktails like the Rob Roy, Bojangles, and White Russian. You can make reservations at 2301 Central Ave.; 769-2000. Open 5 p.m. to 10:15 p.m. Sunday and Tuesday through Thursday, and 5 p.m. to 11:15 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. Closed Monday.

Crispian Bakery hopes to open its Alameda location this May. Until then, customers can have pastries mailed to them from Bay Area customers can order online for delivery by emailing the bakery at

Crispian is run by pastry chef Beth Woulfe and bread baker Christian Fidelis de Goes, who met while working at Bouchon Bakery in New York City. Woulfe has been baking professionally for about five years. She graduated from the Institute of Culinary Education in New York and was head chef at Main Line Baking Co in Philadelphia. She said her goal has always been to open a Bay Area bakery.

“I’m originally from Orinda, but my husband Tyler and I were drawn to Alameda by its welcoming atmosphere, the variety of restaurants and shops, and the preponderance of thriving small businesses,” Woulfe said.

Woulfe and Fidelis de Goes bake a variety of pastries and bread, from classic favorites to specialties, and Woulfe said they will expand their menu when they open their Alameda bakery. Currently they are limited to what they can make in the commercial kitchen they rent.

Crispian has a holiday menu until December 24 that includes Bouche de Noel (a devil’s food cake), bourbon pecan pie, a holiday cookie assortment, gingerbread cake, and a cranberry-orange upside down cake. Their special order menu includes cookies like coconut macaroons, pastries like cream puffs and sticky buns, pies, tarts, cake, and bread.

Woulfe said their most popular item right now is their financier, an almond cake that is made with brown butter; they also offer financiers that are marbled with chocolate and ones that have fresh fruit baked into the batter.

“They’re pretty but not ostentatious, and actually, I think that’s what we’re going for with our bakery,” Woulfe said. “We want to make very high-quality pastries and breads and have a warm inviting atmosphere which will hopefully encourage Alamedans to come in, sit, have a cup of coffee and enjoy something absolutely delicious.”

When Crispian Bakery opens, it will be located at 1700 Park Street.

Pop-Up Shop will be open until December 31. Liz Taylor and Nikki Simonetti will reopen the space around March as Tootsies, a shoe boutique Taylor said has had a location on College Avenue in Oakland for about 10 years. Pop-Up currently carries bags, scarves, pajamas, chocolates from Danville Chocolates, and various other gift items. 1350 A Park St; 595-7272. Open daily with soft hours from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Better Trade Discount is now selling clothing and a variety of other handmade items from Nepal and Tibet. 1623 Park Street; 523-3906. Open 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Happy Feet is closing its doors. Merchandise is currently 20 percent off. 1354 Park Street; 748-0524. Open 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.

Alameda South Shore Center: Go! Calendars, Games, and Toys is open through the holidays and may stay open longer depending on business. Customers who spend $15 or more can purchase a Dylan bear for $4.99 and donate it in-store to Toys for Tots. 2218 South Shore Center. Open daily with soft hours from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Bagel Street Café is hiring and is expected to open this month. 710-3883.

J&R Railroad has a holiday model train layout comprised of six tracks in Neptune Court across from Best Lil’ Porkhouse that will be open from noon to 7 p.m. until January 19. Operator Ronnie Sanders is the owner of the Hula Hawaiian Shave Ice truck. He said that he saw the empty spot at Alameda South Shore Center, and as his shaved ice business slowed with the season change, he saw an opportunity to rent the space and turn it into something Alamedans would enjoy.

The JR in J&R Railroad stands for Janira, his wife, and Ronnie. Sanders has been building, buying and selling model trains for at least 20 years and is a member of five railroad clubs including the Bay Area Garden Railway Society and the Carolwood Pacific Historical Society, which is, according to their website, “dedicated to preserving the personal railroad legacy of Walt Disney.”

Sanders’ display includes a mini Disneyland with working rides as well as Union Pacific and Thomas trains. He has also outfitted the space with railroad posters. He charges $3 for adults and $2 for kids. He provides kids with a coloring sheet and a railroad magazine, and he said they can sit for hours coloring and enjoying the trains.

Sanders said that his interest in model trains started in childhood, when building models was something every kid seemed to be doing; his interest is not so much in the trains themselves as in the creative building process. He said the fact that the trains move after they are done is a bonus.

Activities for his clubs include going to model train shows and hooking together club members’ trains for exhibition; trains can reach up to 80 feet long. Sanders also redesigned a model train for breast cancer awareness in honor of his mother-in-law, who died from the disease. The train is pink, has pink lights, and emits pink smoke.

West Alameda: Pacific Pinball Museum is holding a New Year’s Eve Celebration on December 31 from 6 p.m. to 1 a.m., and the museum has a lot to celebrate. In November, the City Council approved an agreement to negotiate with the museum to restore and move into the Carnegie Library. The museum needs to raise about $3.5 million in the next two years to make the restoration process possible, which makes fundraising events like the New Year’s Eve Celebration as well as community donations very important.

At the New Year’s Eve bash, there will be an International Flipper Pinball Association tournament that anyone may enter, and prizes will be awarded. There will also be free “flipper” finger foods including a vegetarian option, a raffle, no host bar, free hats and noisemakers, and free champagne at midnight. Tickets are $40 for adults and $25 for children 16 and under. For more information visit 1510 Webster Street.

Fox and Moon Tea will hold its annual holiday gift event from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday at a private residence. The event is drop in, and owner Zo Guthrie, who has been a vendor at the Alameda Farmers’ Market on Tuesdays since October, said she will be selling curated, single-estate teas from all over the world; Fox and Moon Tea’s signature line of custom blends and edibles made with tea as an ingredient; holiday tea gift sets; and collectible teaware reflecting a “rich variety of cultural tea customs.” Guthrie said she will also feature merchandise from local businesses including Blue Chair Jam, Vice Chocolates, 3rd Eye Blinking Jewelry, Traditional Russian Kvass by Irina, and Bubble Farm Soap Co. as well as Madrugada Farms’ wool rugs and Mayhar Farms’ maple syrup.

Guthrie said Fox and Moon Tea has been looking for a retail location in the Bay Area, but until they find one customers can shop on their website. They also do events and pop-ups and provide on-site catering.

Guthrie said they’ve been selling a wide variety of tea and tea products from around the world since 2005. She said customers don’t have a single favorite, though Yunnan Gold, Jasmine Phoenix Pearl and Fabled Lands Chai Blend are popular at the moment.

“I was raised in Sonoma County, where my family shared with me the artistry of food and drink as I helped host dinner and wine tasting parties that featured local fare,” Guthrie said. “I grew up sharing tea with friends and family; tea was a shared experience and way to appreciate those around me.”

Guthrie said Fox and Moon Tea’s goal is to share tea cultures from around the world and incorporate those cultures into the Bay Area’s food scene.

1059 Santa Clara Ave. Apt. B. The door is upstairs and to the right.

Safeway at Alameda Landing is expected to open January 19 and is hiring for part time and permanent positions in most departments. Visit to submit an application.

Albert’s Café is under the new ownership of Kymberlee Murphy-Locklear and Jessica and Clifford Charbonneau. Jessica Charbonneau said they have made changes to the menu by removing such things as dinner entrees, and they plan on adding new menu items like soups, basket combos, and a kids menu. They have already added eggs benedict. Charbonneau and Murphy-Locklear plan to do some remodeling in about six months, and they want to put up an old Alameda mural inside. Charbonneau said she wants to make the café a family place for breakfast and lunch where diners can relax and feel comfortable. The café will offer a 10 percent discount for seniors and may open earlier than 7 a.m. in the future. 1541 Webster Street; 523-4600. Open daily from 7 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

Chicha Contemporary Peruvian Bistro is now open following a remodel. 1544 Webster Street; 522-3764. Open for dinner from 5 to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 5 to 10 p.m. Friday, 4 to 10 p.m. Saturday and 4 to 9 p.m. Sunday. Open noon to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday for brunch.

USS Hornet Museum will host a New Year’s Eve celebration 7:30 p.m. to 1 a.m. New Year’s Eve. There will be three dance floors with free dance lessons from Jim Truesdale, a former Fred Astaire instructor, as well as a performance by The Tartlettes. 3 O’Clock Jump will provide that big band sound, and party goers can enjoy cash-only bar and food concessions. There will be a midnight countdown, and the San Francisco fireworks will be visible from the flight deck. General admission tickets are $45 online or $50 at the door. Reserved and Cabaret Reserved tickets are also available for $65 and $85. Visit for more information.


Donna Eyestone's picture
Submitted by Donna Eyestone on Fri, Dec 19, 2014

Shameless promo -- but don't forget to go to the Alameda Marketplace and see my gingerbread version of both the marketplace building and the Park Street bridge! On display at the registers!