For half a century, Bob "Red" Perin has lived and breathed Christmas trees.
Come December, the Everett man could be found at his tree lots on Evergreen Way or Rucker Avenue. His hand-lettered "Red’s Trees" sign was a harbinger of the holidays.
"I’ve sold trees to young couples, and I used to sell to their grandparents. I’ve met a lot of neat people in this town," said Perin, a weathered-looking man of 70 whose hair still matches his nickname.
Longtime customers who put off purchases while awaiting Red’s sign had best make other plans this year. As Perin told a loyal client who called recently, "I retired."
For the first time since the ’50s, Perin has no Christmas tree lot. He still has commercial accounts, and sells large Noble firs harvested from his Forest Park area property to select buyers.
Perin’s trees have for years spruced up high-profile businesses and public places, among them the Everett Public Library, Cascade Bank, the Elks Club, the Everett Yacht Club and Everett Mutual Bank.
He decided against a tree lot this year because two sons who have worked with him in the past moved to Montana. Hiring help has been difficult, he said. "People don’t realize what hard work it is."
A longshoreman outside of tree season, Perin began selling Christmas trees in 1951. He’d go door-to-door taking orders. In the days before tree farms, he’d harvest evergreens on Whidbey Island, selling them wholesale to tree lots for 35 cents each. When he bought from property owners in those days, he paid a nickel a tree.
Perin later operated tree farms on leased land near Granite Falls, Monroe, Poulsbo and Sequim.
Times have changed, haven’t they? "This is an expensive year," Perin said.
Nobles, for years $5 a foot, are generally $8 a foot this season. Huge trees go for $200 to $300, he said.
Self-taught in the science of tree propagation, Perin has also been schooled in human nature. Christmas trees spark odd behavior.
He’s seen couples "fight over them something terrible." At his tree lot at Farmer’s Garden Center on Rucker, a husband and wife got into it over a tree, he said, "and he got into the car and was honking the horn. Finally, he just left."
Every year, he’d display a year-old tree that was nothing but dead limbs, putting up a sign that said "Red’s Dollar Special."
"One year, two ladies who worked at General Telephone wanted to buy it. Their boss had sent them out to buy a tree on their lunch hour," he said with a chuckle. "I did it every year, and somebody would always buy it for some joke."
One picky customer, an older woman, "had to have the perfect tree every year. She’d pick it out, measure it. I’d see her coming, I’d hide," Perin said.
Another "real fussy lady" had Perin’s son deliver a 10-foot Noble to Camano Island. "When he got there, the last year’s tree was still there in her house," Perin said.
Can nature create a perfect tree? Perin has seen it, and lost it.
On Dec. 22, 1981, The Herald printed a front-page story about a 9-foot, 17-year-old Noble fir that was cut down and stolen from Perin’s Everett property by a thief in the night. The tree was so close to perfect, he never wanted it cut.
"He planned to give it years of special attention, until one year it would begin producing seed cones that hopefully would lead to generations of fine, straight Christmas trees," the article said.
Despite the $500 reward he offered, the crime was never solved, said Perin, whose brother Jim Perin was once Everett’s police chief. And Bob Perin has never again seen the likes of his near-perfect fir.
And this year? Is his tree up? It wasn’t when we talked last week.
"I’m always the last one in Everett," said Perin, who frowns about early birds with trees up by early December. "I’m like the plumber with leaky pipes. I’m the same way with Christmas trees."