Not So Consoled

The only people thinking about Christmas in October are retailers and their most rabid customers, Hallmark Channel fans and guys like Phil Consolo who want to sell trees and other Christmas greenery when the day after Thanksgiving rolls around.

Except Consolo, a Saugus native, won’t be selling trees in Saugus because the Board of Selectmen decided the Hanover farmer potentially poses too much competition to other Christmas tree sellers.

All five selectmen voted to grant Consolo’s farmstand application but deny his request to sell trees. Selectmen Mark Mitchell and Jeff Cicolini didn’t like the idea of Consolo competing with other established tree sellers, specifically nonprofit organizations, including the Boy Scouts.

It’s hard to take a stand against the Boy Scouts, but a little Christmastime competition never hurt anyone. Consolo’s a business owner who told the board he planned to count tree sales toward half his business revenue.

He also said he planned to confine holiday tree sales to a 40 foot-square lot. How many trees can you pack into an area the dimensions of a reasonably-sized backyard? Consolo isn’t some big corporate vendor with outlets across the country who wants to swoop into Saugus and drive the little people out of business.

His apparent roots in the community suggest he is interested in running a farmstand in the same spirit of New England-style farms located all across the North Shore. He is associated with Boston Public Market, a business dedicated to providing locally-sourced food and he wants to do business in Saugus.

That last point should be criteria enough for the selectmen to at least give Consolo a Christmas trial season to determine if he actually cuts into local nonprofit tree sales. Call it the greater good principle: By bringing a farmstand to town, Consolo improves the retail food market locally and by getting permission to sell trees, he broadens holiday consumer selection a little bit.

The selectmen’s concerns are well founded, but why not give the guy a chance, especially given his ties to the town? The selectmen, like any local legislative board, need to protect local interests and safeguard the public. But their actions concerning Consolo are preemptive as much as they are protective.

With the temperature outside still hovering in the 70s, the board has assumed Consolo will cut into nonprofit tree sales without actually knowing if that fear is a reasonable one. Consolo is now weighing the viability of his business plan and if he decides his farmstand can’t work without Christmas trees then the selectmen may have to conclude that more harm than good resulted from their restrictive decision.

The selectmen and everyone who lives in Saugus knows town residents are very generous and more than willing to ensure organizations like the Boy Scouts or Saugus High School sports teams receive the money they need to survive and prosper. For the selectmen, the question concerning Consolo’s application should have been: “Can we help a business thrive?” not “Can we ensure nonprofits survive?”

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