Joe Walls’ college job of selling Christmas trees turned into a life-long vocation that was broken only by a six-year diversion to working in oil fields.
Walls’ father, James Walls, founded Smyrna’s iconic Omni Hut restaurant about 58 years ago. His sister, Polly Walls-Balakhani, ran it for several decades.
Walls’ tree lot is near the closed Omni Hut building on South Lowry Street. He also has the North American Evergreens Nursery at 580 S. Lowry St., as well as a 20-acre farm off Almaville Road. He raises and sells container plants for landscapers at his wholesale nursery.
Walls began selling the trees while attending Middle Tennessee State University, where he graduated in 1979. He then went west to work in the oil fields in Oklahoma and Texas for six years. But he returned to Smyrna and has been selling Christmas trees ever since.
And he knows a thing or two about Christmas trees.
He began selling trees from Oregon about 30 years ago after meeting a grower at a trade show. He said at that time, he didn’t know much about trees, but he noticed while shaking the man’s hands that they were callused, while other wholesalers’ hands were smooth. The grower from Oregon grew his own trees to assure himself of their quality, Walls said.
“When you deal with a grower and you’re there every year, they’re going to give you a better tree,” he said.
Walls said he also sells trees from North Carolina, imported from areas such as south of Asheville where the altitude — over 3,000 feet — and cold nights allow for good foliage.
Walls’ lot sells only firs such as Frasers from North Carolina, the Grand Fir from Oregon, the Noble Fir, and the Nordmann Fir, a cross of the Grand and the Noble. The best sellers are the Fraser, the Noble and then the Nordmann, he said. Walls said he likes’ firs’ soft needles which also provide a layered look.
When asked what variety of tree he will have at home, Walls said his wife selected a Nordmann.
The tree lot typically stays open until around Dec. 15, when sales drop off, and no later than the week before Christmas, he said. Hours are Monday-Thursday, noon-7 p.m.; Friday, noon-8 p.m.; Saturday, 9 a.m.-8 p.m.; Sunday, noon-5 p.m. The number is 615-459-0475.
What keeps him coming back year after year? He said it is seeing the kids running among the trees having fun, people taking pictures of the trees, the Christmas spirit, as well as getting to know the repeat customers.