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Posted on Tue, Dec 13, 2011 : 9:09 a.m.

The only place in Ann Arbor to get your Christmas tree

By Richard Retyi

Flatsnoots Trees Duke Wagetha.jpg

Duke Wagetha (left) and his son Cody.

Richard Retyi | Contributor

"A lot of people say the holiday season hasn't started until they drink the cheap booze in the trailer," says Duke Wagetha, CEO at Flatsnoots Christmas Trees Headquarters.

Tree camp, as Duke refers to it, is located at 3500 Washtenaw Avenue across from the Arborland Mall. It's hard to miss — a giant parking lot full of Christmas trees and a multicolored 1951 Vagabond trailer covered in wreaths.

Flatsnoots has it all — from majestic 16-footers to three-foot table-top trees, wreaths, center pieces, mistletoe and, of course, cheap booze. Once you pick out your tree, Duke invites you inside the trailer to wrap up the transaction with a festive tipple. Cinnamon schnapps, Hot Damn or something called a Noggin Robber. One couple who'd been coming to Flatsnoots for years waited 10 minutes for Duke to finish helping other customers and join them in a toast. Duke doesn’t imbibe with each sale — if he did he’d be passed out among the Scotch Pines by 10:30 a.m.

Flatsnoots Christmas Trees.jpg

Photo by Richard Retyi

Business is brisk at Flatsnoots on this, the busiest day of the year so far. I'm not the first journalist who's wandered into Duke's lot looking for a story. There’s a full page Ann Arbor News article taped to the wall inside the trailer. Duke tells the story of Motor Trend magazine showing up one year to use a tree in a photo shoot.

"They wouldn't let us in the frame," says Duke, rubbing his graying goatee. "They brought their own models."

He might not be a model, but Duke definitely cuts a figure. He wears layers — an unbuttoned Cabo Wabo-looking shirt over black overalls and a green hoodie, accented by a red Christmas-themed bandana around his neck. Duke ties it all together with a straw hat and glasses perched on the bridge of his smushed nose — the flat snoot in Flatsnoots — an old high school football injury. Duke is funny, has a blue-collar handshake and probably makes a lot of his younger customers wish he was their dad.

Bill Robertson and his wife Katie have been getting trees from Duke for 10 years. Today Bill and his daughter Tessa are picking out a beauty, which one of Duke's workers expertly ties to the top of their vehicle.

Robertson Tree.jpg

The Family Robertson tree.

Richard Retyi | Contributor

"We like these guys," says Bill, while his daughter stays in the vehicle where it's sensibly warm. "They're nice, friendly and do everything for you."

Most customers park their cars and walk through the lot looking for the perfect tree. Others drive up close to the trees and inspect them from the toasty interior, listening to A Prairie Home Companion and pointing at things. Duke serves them all.

"We're from up north," says Duke. "We're jack pine savages."

Duke got into the Christmas tree business between construction jobs up north in Mesick, Mich. He "roadsided" trees in his pickup for 10 cents apiece, hauling spruces, firs and pines out of the bush, making $100 when $100 was decent money. Eventually Duke got wise and started selling trees by himself, starting his operation in 1976 ("I think"). And here we are.

Thirty years of selling trees, first in Westland and then in Ann Arbor. Due to construction and logistics, Duke's tree camp has bounced around a few parking lots in Ann Arbor, but people always seem to find him. There's a mailing list you can sign up for where Duke sends you a holiday card with details on where he’ll be that year. "Peace and Prosperity to All," is the signoff.

The buzz of electric chainsaws is near-constant as Duke's men trim trees to suit each customer. While trees are tied down, happy buyers file into the trailer and queue up for Nicole, who sits at a tiny desk neatly recording each purchase in a notebook.

Flatsnoots Trailer.jpg

The inside of Flatsnoots World Headquarters

Richard Retyi | Contributor

The trailer has a couch and a small kitchen where a big pot of chili is bubbling away. I told my girlfriend Rachel about the chili when I got home, and she lit up. Her family has been buying trees from Flatsnoots for years, and she always remembered chili on the stove. That little detail is incredibly comforting to me for some reason.

The trailer is full of pictures taped to the walls next to holiday cards sent from lifelong customers. Chili pepper lights are strung along the roof next to glowing plastic cows. The Budweiser frogs burned out a season or two ago.

Young couples come in buying their first tree together. Two brothers from the Chi Phi fraternity bounce on their heels as one of Duke's guys ties a big tree to the top of their vehicle. The tree is for their big Crush Winter Formal party later that night.

Duke is busy. He removes his glove when shaking someone’s hand, his heavily creased palms stained green. "You know how everything is new and improved?" he says to one customer. "We’re not."

Flatsnoots Christmas Tree.jpg

Photo by Richard Retyi

Duke is bus helping people find their Christmas trees so I go into the trailer unaccompanied and slip past a queue of shoppers. There’s a pre-poured Dixie cup of cinnamon booze sitting on Duke's serving tray. It's calling my name. I haven't had schnapps since my parents left me home alone on New Year's Eve in ninth grade. Glancing around, I snatch it up and throw it down. Ladies and gentlemen, the holiday season can officially begin!

Richard Retyi writes the bi-weekly-ish column Lie to Your Cats About Santa and despite the name, this is his first article on anything Christmas related. How about that? For his day job he works as the social media manager at Fluency Media in Ann Arbor. You can follow him on Twitter at @RichRetyi or check out his website at



Thu, Dec 15, 2011 : 12:15 a.m.

Duke and his family are wonderful people and have hearts of gold. He would give his shirt off his back to anyone in need. He enjoys servicing the community and has made many lasting friends along the way. Let us support each other and Michigan.


Wed, Dec 14, 2011 : 3:38 p.m.

Don't forget the Arboretum!

James J. Gould

Wed, Dec 14, 2011 : 3:30 p.m.

Check out Chuck Braun's tree lot on Warren Road by the Ann Arbor Railroad crossing. Nothing like cutting your own if you want a really fresh tree.


Wed, Dec 14, 2011 : 2:19 p.m.

Duke must be very happy about all the free advertising. Nobody else in town such extensive coverage as he. Its just disappointing as a local business owner that would spotlight one business and exclaim them better than the rest. Most tree lots sell very similar or exactly the same trees for a similar price. Personally I support local businesses who have a store front, pay taxes and employ local residents. I can't wait for an advertising rep to walk in my door.


Wed, Dec 14, 2011 : 12:12 a.m.

Duke may not call A2 home year round but he IS a local at Christmas time. My mom took me there when I was a kid and now I take mine. All together our family has been doing business with Flatsnoots for 25+ years. It was really sad a couple years ago when we went and were told that Duke was at UM hospital for chemo...not just sad but things just didn't seem right having not seen him during the holidays. I'm glad he's on the mend and in recovery mode. He's a good mad. I hope to introduce him to my grand kids some day. We love Flatsnoots!


Tue, Dec 13, 2011 : 11:51 p.m.

Nice article. We have been buying our trees there for years. Yes , Virginia, there are other places to buy trees. However Flatsnoot's is THE place to buy a tree. They do remember their customers, and their prices are reasonable.


Tue, Dec 13, 2011 : 5:38 p.m.

Leverett's on Packard, just east of Carpenter, best place to get a tree. local family they actually used to live in the house next door and I swam in their cement pond back in the 70's. And if you have a business that needs a produce supplier, talk to Mike about that when you are there too. i also have to say that I have heard good things about Flatsnoots, but outing their shot give away in a public forum like this is probably going to create more problems than good for them down the road. Oh and hey, the Village Pub finally opened.


Tue, Dec 13, 2011 : 5:28 p.m.

The Dexter Lion's Club sells Christmas trees every year on Baker Road next to the old high school. Nothing wrong with having your tree money go to help people in need. This was a fun article and very well written. Thanks Richard!

Usual Suspect

Tue, Dec 13, 2011 : 5:09 p.m.

This is NOT the only place in town to get a tree.


Tue, Dec 13, 2011 : 5:08 p.m.

Don't forget about Virgil and Jim's on Jackson Road just east of Zeeb. Good, honest people with an excellent Michigan-grown product!


Tue, Dec 13, 2011 : 4:53 p.m.

I thought Christmas trees were not allowed in A2.Only "Holiday" trees


Wed, Dec 14, 2011 : 12:16 a.m.

@barb: we, the fine citizens of A2, are too PC to have "Christ"mas trees....not me though: Merry Christmas everyone!


Tue, Dec 13, 2011 : 6:41 p.m.

I don't get it.


Tue, Dec 13, 2011 : 5:29 p.m.

Ha! Good one.


Tue, Dec 13, 2011 : 4:40 p.m.

Some price indicators would have been nice in this article. I went over to the Produce Station this weekend looking for a tree--and about fell over--it is ridiculous to pay $80 to $100 for a Christmas tree! Promptly left there. I thought the Kiwanis' trees at $30 to $40 a pop in Whitmore Lake were expensive, now I guess not! Still, the exorbitant prices paid for a mostly already dead tree that's going to be thrown out anyway in a week or two or three seems silly in this economy. I wonder how many families will just do without this year?

Richard Retyi

Tue, Dec 13, 2011 : 3:45 p.m.

There are obviously more places to find Christmas trees in Ann Arbor and I'm sure many of those businesses are great, but I'd heard so many positive things about Flatsnoots that I had to check it out. At the end of my afternoon, I was sold. I like buying local as much as the next person, but Flatsnoots is a proud Michigander and I'm happy to support the state's economy in general.

Richard Retyi

Tue, Dec 13, 2011 : 9:10 p.m.

@Not a valid: Despite your not-so-flattering nom de plume, funny comment! I agree - many local places to buy your Christmas tree. But only ONE cat and Santa themed article!

Not a valid excuse for a newspaper

Tue, Dec 13, 2011 : 8:44 p.m.

Sure it's a nice business as are MANY local places, but to call it "The ONLY place in Ann Arbor to get your Christmas tree"... I suspect that's the Hot Damn talking.

Peter Baker

Tue, Dec 13, 2011 : 3:42 p.m.

It's not the only place in Ann Arbor to get a Christmas tree.

Richard Retyi

Tue, Dec 13, 2011 : 9:14 p.m.

Sorry Peter, but my first headline &quot;One of Many Places in Ann Arbor to Get Your Christmas Tree&quot; didn't pass my personal sniff test. (Also - I agree. There are tons of places in Ann Arbor to get your tree: <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a>


Tue, Dec 13, 2011 : 3:41 p.m.

I wonder why Salon Vox got in trouble for serving champagne to clients, but &quot;Tree Camp&quot; is revered for pouring shots of Hot Damn in its trailer? For the record, I think both should be allowed. I wish more business offered spirits as a way to thank customers -- ATMs should produce Jaggerbombs with each withdrawal. I actually bought a tree here this year, but passed on imbibing. I usually go to Braun's -- so romantic cutting a fresh tree from a farm during a snow fall. This year it was pouring rain for the first 97 straight days after Thanksgiving, so we went the easy route and got our from a shopping mall parking lot.


Tue, Dec 13, 2011 : 3:31 p.m.

Like the article and as noted by others there are other places for tree sales also. Some service clubs like the Lions sell Michigan tress in places like Dexter.


Tue, Dec 13, 2011 : 2:41 p.m.

Other good local options are Lodi Farms and Coleman's.

Not a valid excuse for a newspaper

Tue, Dec 13, 2011 : 2:13 p.m.

This is PURE advertising. We got our tree from Braun's, a local family farm. Same price as Whole Foods, but the money goes directly back to the community. You can find other local options at

Ann English

Wed, Dec 14, 2011 : 12:36 a.m.

When I saw five Christmas trees tied to vehicle roofs on Sunday going in the opposite direction I was, I knew Braun's Christmas Tree Farm had to be open. They were, all right, with plenty of parked vehicles lining Warren Road in front.

Not a valid excuse for a newspaper

Tue, Dec 13, 2011 : 7:32 p.m.

I didn't say they weren't, but you do realize that A) we ARE in Christmas-tree-growing territory, and B) if you buy direct from the producer that more of the money supports the local economy, right?


Tue, Dec 13, 2011 : 3:28 p.m.

The trees at Whole Foods are also locally grown...

Tom Teague

Mon, Dec 12, 2011 : 9:19 p.m.

Good column, Richard. We buy our trees and wreaths at Flatsnoot's every year which paid off handsomely when we had to return a tree last year. I'd never returned a Christmas tree before and didn't know what to expect. Duke looked at it, agreed that it had shed its needles prematurely, apologized, and cheerfully made good with a new tree that lasted well past the season's end. This year, Duke showed his prodigious recall by greeting us with &quot;I remember you had a little trouble with that first tree last year. Second one work out okay?&quot; Now THAT's customer service.

Richard Retyi

Mon, Dec 12, 2011 : 9:37 p.m.

I watched Duke swap a centerpiece for a nice lady. The glass part broke on her drive home when she took a turn a little too sharply and Duke was more than happy to give her a brand new one.

Morris Thorpe

Mon, Dec 12, 2011 : 3:27 p.m.

Good stuff, Richard. Maybe Duke and Cody can bring goods from the Mesick Mushroom Festival as well? Aside....when will do away with the dial-up-sized images? I would have liked to see the interior of the trailer, etc. MovableType has an easy way to enable this.

Andrew R. Gorsuch

Mon, Dec 12, 2011 : 2:41 p.m.

Also checkout The Farmer's Market or The Produce Station on State Street, they both have a nice selection of Michigan Grown Christmas Trees! <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a>

Usual Suspect

Tue, Dec 13, 2011 : 5:12 p.m.

Nice self-promotion there, Andrew.

Andrew R. Gorsuch

Mon, Dec 12, 2011 : 2:37 p.m.

Michigan ranks third in the country in the number of Christmas trees harvested, and no other state produces more Christmas tree varieties. Michigan's 700 Christmas tree growers harvest about 3 million trees a year, according to information from the state.