At this time of year, mini evergreen forests sprout up in unlikely neighborhood spots all across the city. They are the original winter pop-up forests–strung with multicolored lights, usually warmed by a blazing wood fire erupting from a dirty, old, oil drum, and are always as down-home Philly as it gets. For me, their appearance is the welcoming herald of the holiday season and their departure marks the sad, abrupt end of it.
I’ve seen a number of street corner Christmas tree shops in my day, but Sam’s Christmas Land at Richmond and Ann Streets in Port Richmond just might be the most magnificent of them all. Located directly beneath I-95, Sam’s Christmas Land is tucked away in the neighborhood’s riverside outskirts, rising from the grit and rubble of surrounding interstate construction like a merry little oasis. Celebrating their 20th anniversary this year, Sam’s has grown to become much more than just a spot to get your Christmas tree.
Joe Petaccio is the proprietor of Sam’s Christmas Land, and nope, there isn’t any Sam. At least not anymore. Apparently, it’s a really long story, but there indeed was once a Sam. Joe decided to keep Sam’s name on the shop as a tribute to the former owner of the corner ice cream and water ice shop where Sam’s Christmas Land holds temporary winter court–the shop reopens during the warmer months of spring.
Joe and his brother Jay are local boys who grew up just a few doors down from the ice cream shop. Blessed with a relentless entrepreneurial spirit, they also run a t-shirt printing shop and tanning salon on the same block. Way back in 1993, they finally convinced their mother to try a real Christmas tree after years of doing the fake thing. According to Joe, they bought it from a guy on Aramingo Avenue and got ripped off. After that fateful experience, Joe vowed that he would start his own Christmas tree operation so that he could “take care of the neighborhood,” and they have been doing that ever since. Pictured here are Jay and Cousin Mike who makes all of the grave blankets from leftover tree scraps.
Staffed mostly by family and a devoted cast of teens from the neighborhood, Sam’s Christmas Land is a place that invites you in for more than just a tree. From December 1st until Christmas Eve, the corner of Richmond and Ann is THE spot in the neighborhood to shoot the breeze, get warm by the “fire bucket,” and toss back a few beers. During the day on the weekends, it’s a more family-friendly scene and you can bring the little ones for a cookout, photos with Santa, live music, and other random, wonderful surprises. Every person who has ever been a part of the motley crew at Sam’s Christmas Land has their name in glitter on a stocking inside the shop.
For a full month, Sam’s Christmas Land essentially becomes the Petaccio family’s outdoor living room and anyone and everyone is invited to drink up a hearty glass of holiday cheer on them. Struggling to put your three kids through Catholic school? Joe can cut you a deal on your tree. Don’t have a vehicle to get your tree back to your home? The guys will take it there for you. And if you buy one of their tree stands, they’ll even set it up for you in your house. It’s just about enough to restore your faith in humanity.