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Siblings Keep Family Holiday Tradition Alive in Oak Park by Going Their Own Way

Siblings Leah Goodwin, owner of the Oak Park Vintage Market on Chicago Avenue, and John Brussock, a Christmas tree farmer, are keeping a family tradition alive by bringing new life to their father's businesses.

Since 1987, families in Oak Park have been taking home their Christmas trees from a little lot on Chicago Avenue, just east of Harlem.

For years, the lot was maintained by Jim Brussock, an area contractor and the owner of a New Era Kitchen and Bath, located at 1117 Chicago Ave. in Oak Park. In the 1980s, a love of the outdoors drove Jim to head north and purchase a 250-acre Christmas tree farm in central Wisconsin. In 1987, Jim began to bring some of the trees home to Oak Park and set up shop each season selling Fraser Firs and Balsam Firs in the community the family called home.

Leah Goodwin and John Brussock, Jim's children, recall fond memories of the farm and the little Christmas tree lot in Oak Park that popped up each season. Though John went to school for business and then spent some time in real estate, the farm was something that was never far in his mind.

"When John gets into something, he really gets into it," Leah said of her brother one grey morning in Oak Park. "He got into selling trees."

And so, John quit his corporate job in 2009 and began a new business— DeliverMyChristmasTree.com—selling the family firs over the Internet.

According to a profile in the Wall Street Journal on the family operation, selling trees online can seem counterintuitive in a business that is often based on customer's ability to touch and see the product before purchasing. But the online business did well it's first year, selling more trees online than any other online tree seller. In 2010, the business really took off, and John told the Journal that he hoped to triple the family farm's sales over the ensuing years.

When Jim died of cancer in 2010, the family was stunned. John was faced with continuing the family business on his own, and the kitchen and bathroom store the family owned in Oak Park became vacant.

"My step-mom was going to rent the property," Leah said.

Leah had been selling vintage and antique jewelry online and at markets for a few years, and with the prospect of the family's store being handed over to someone else, she felt it was the right time to act.

"I couldn't imagine anyone else being in here," she said as she looked around the shop, now renamed Oak Park Vintage Market. "I spent so much time in this space growing up. I couldn't bear it, and I was thinking of opening my own shop. The idea just took off and became alive at that point."

After nine months of remolding, Oak Park Vintage Market opened in September 2011. Even in the store's first holiday season, the two siblings knew they had found a model that worked. As John continued to sell the family trees in the front lot, Leah in turn began selling gifts to customers lured by the sea of green needles out front.

"It really works well [during the Christmas season]," Leah said of the arrangement. "[Oak Park residents] have been coming to us for years to get their tree, so especially the first year it helped raise awareness about the new business."

Customers who come to the lot for a tree often come inside to warm up and take a look around. When they do, they'll inevitably see something that catches their eye. Oak Park Vintage Markets houses a wide variety of items from old signs to cocktail sets with a special draw being the store's jewelry items.

"[Husbands] often need a little help," Leah laughed. "But the wife will point out something they like and then they'll come back to pick up."

Years of selling unique pieces of jewelry has also put Leah in the position of helping a spouse looking for something special to select the right piece.

"It's all about learning about [the woman's] individual style and then pulling out pieces that reflect her tastes," Leah said.

Even though the majority of John's tree sales come from wholesale orders and from DeliverMyChristmasTree.com, the family is continuing to sell their trees to Oak Parkers on the family lot.

"And we like each other," John chuckled. "It's nice to be able to spend that time working together each season. It's a lot of fun and I look forward to this each year."

John will even deliver the trees to Oak Park residents and set them up in their homes if asked. The trees too, are of higher quality than many lots, he added. They generally don't sit outside long, and being able to cut them as needed keeps them fresh and helps them retain needles longer.

Trees at the Oak Park Vintage Market lot sell for between $45-98. A Facebook check-in gets a 10 percent discount at Oak Park Vintage Market as well.

For the two siblings, it's as much about continuing the family tradition as it is about selling their wares each year.

"And it's fun to see the same faces year after year," Leah said. "Oak Park [is a community] where people value things that are unique and of quality over things that as mass produced. We provide that here."

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