The trappings of Christmas – stockings hung by the chimney with care, mistletoe, the crush of holiday shoppers, St. Nick and his doppelgangers, a rainbow of lights, bellringers, too much food, brightly packaged gifts, and the noble Christmas tree.
For many who celebrate Christmas, the tree – be it artificial, live or cut – is a must-have for holiday decorating. And Furman graduates Maggie Grisell Pahl ’16 and Kevin Pahl ’15, owners of Greenville Christmas Trees, are doing their part to bring more evergreens into Upstate homes and create lasting memories for families.
During Black Friday weekend, the couple rented Arran Farm in Easley, South Carolina, about a half hour from Greenville, to launch Christmas at the Farm – the couple’s first festival for engaging the community and making the tree selection process one to remember.
On the company’s website, Kevin, CEO of the business and a political science graduate, describes the boyhood excitement of picking out the perfect cut tree with his family. But despite the thrill of the hunt, he was certain the experience could be much more than scoping out a tree at a big box retailer, paying for it, loading it up and leaving.
“The more I looked around,” Kevin said, “the more I realized how quick the whole process was and how often people came alone. I felt the tradition of picking out a Christmas tree as a family had faded.”
That’s how the idea began brewing for Kevin and Maggie, CFO of the operation, – to make the tree buying tradition less transactional and more experiential.
During the COVID lockdowns, the Pahls took time to reflect on how they could move forward. They also tapped the expertise of Matt Reeve ’17 (sociology), campus programs manager at Furman’s Hill Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, who gave the couple pointers for starting the pop-up business.
“Greenville Christmas Trees embodies what the holiday season is really about – taking time to be present, spending time with family and friends,” said Reeve, who believed the Pahls already had a “firm grasp on entrepreneurship” and “great presence and communication skills.”
Months later, with a lot of preparation and a little direction from the Hill Institute on how to approach the market, the Pahls were ready to launch their first festival.
At the event, cut Fraser and Balsam firs in all shapes and sizes grown on a North Carolina farm were the stars of the show. And the supporting cast offered plenty of other attractions to entertain guests.
Celebrating local businesses, the Pahls curated five artisan vendors – from woodworkers to beekeepers – and hosted food and beverage trucks. Crowd favorites like hot chocolate and s’mores were on hand as well as activities like yard games, a bonfire, trivia, a photo booth and crafts for kids.
In another section at the event – “The Greatest Gift” – festival goers were offered a way to donate toward trees to those who don’t have the means to purchase them.
Through the Salvation Army’s Angel Tree program, visitors could provide trees for families in need, and the Pahls matched the donations with tree stands and delivery to appropriate Salvation Army sites.
Furman engendered the notion of giving back, said Maggie, a computing and applied mathematics alumna. “It’s our small way of giving back to the community that gave us so much.
“Obviously, meeting people’s basic needs for food and shelter is a huge priority. But I think it’s easy to neglect the fact that the simple, fun things about Christmas we take for granted aren’t accessible to some families. A tree is such a magical part of Christmas … we don’t want people to miss out on that because they can’t afford it.”
By all accounts, Christmas at the Farm was a rousing success. But the Pahls are accustomed to that – both two-time winners of SoCon soccer titles.
Tickets for the weekend were sold out three days ahead of the event, and by the end of the weekend, the Pahls sold 185 trees, and tallied enough donations to supply trees to 25 area families.
After getting their feet wet with the inaugural festival, the Pahls are looking forward to spreading the joy over two weekends in 2022. In January, they’ll begin accepting applications from vendors who want to participate.
Meantime, the Pahls will have their hands full.
Maggie will return to her day job as a dentist at a local Greenville practice, and Kevin will forge new ground for Greenville Christmas Trees while taking on childcare for newborn twins Rosalie and Tucker, and two-year-old Kai, affectionately named “executive distraction” of GCT.