The Christmas Tree Farmer

Michael Koutsoubis is one of the few people who can say his money grows on trees. The owner of Mike’s Christmas Tree Farm in Manorville sows saplings in the Pines Barrens all year, same as he has for the 31 before, for the one month when families annually flock to saw them down, $11 per foot ($16 for Blue Spruce). It’s among the closest chop-your-own-tree farms to New York City. “I love to plant trees,” the 76-year-old Greek immigrant says in his greenhouse. “This kind of business is not to be rich; it’s just to pay the taxes and maybe a couple extra dollars.” It helps when the snow waits until the end of December and deer don’t scratch their horns on the merchandise. Fifteen years ago, he sold half the 10-acre plot to Matthew Marple, who named his cut Matt’s Christmas Tree Farm, halved by a dirt road made by a developer who wanted to build houses. The two work together and patrons tell them which farm they found their tree on. “It’s a really short season, but we do the best we can,” Koutsoubis says. “If you love something and want it to be right, you have to put a lot of work.”


The Black Friday Shopper

When it comes to sniffing out the best deals on Black Friday, Jordan Malik, 43, of Levittown has it down to a science. He’s been braving the herds of holiday shoppers packing retailers nationwide the day after Thanksgiving for the past decade and issuing advice to those looking to get in on the action since 2009 on his website, ResellBlackFriday.com. “When the crowd is going one way, I’m going the other,” he says. “You want to be able to go back to your friends to say ‘I got the latest PlayStation.’ But nobody wants to hear that you got a great deal on a toaster or a crock pot.” But he’s found that the odds are slim for most people scoring those insane deals on a 50-inch flatscreen TV, so he targets the best deals on toys, kitchenware and small electronics, such as a knife set for $9.99 after rebate that sells for at least triple that. His best tip? Check out Slickdeals.net. He’s not one to camp out overnight and cautions against unnecessarily sacrificing sleep over the hype. Recalling the trampling death of a 34-year-old Valley Stream Walmart worker on Black Friday five years ago, he asks: “Is any deal worth your life?”


Saint Nick

It’s not always posing for pictures under a 30-foot Christmas tree at Roosevelt Field Mall with children asking for puppies or the occasional monkey. Sometimes, such as after Sandy, the requests Santa Claus hears are more serious. “The children were asking not for toys,” says Kris Kringle of the North Pole. “They were asking for homes, heat and light.” He can’t make any promises, just replies: “I’ll see what I can do.” It doesn’t take a superstorm for heavy hearts to land in his lap, either. A terminally ill woman got on her knees and begged him for help. The father of a soldier killed in action handed him a thank you card—addressed to Santa from Dad—that read that “he really didn’t know if [Santa] was real or not and he had just lost a son in a war he didn’t believe in and he wanted to believe.” But, the endless supply of hugs ease the tough days. “Some people around the holidays, they really carry some heavy burdens…so Santa’s job is just to get a smile,” he says. “When they start doubting, I say to the children: If you don’t believe in Santa Claus, think of all the fun that you are missing!”



The Bell Ringer

If every time a bell rings an angel gets their wings, as is said in the classic movie It’s a Wonderful Life, then Sharon Williams is making countless spirits fly. The 61-year-old Riverhead woman is a bell ringer for the Salvation Army, reminding Long Islanders that the holiday season is not just about receiving, but giving as well. “It just touches my heart to see how generous people are,” Williams says as passersby stuff change and bills into the red kettle beside her outside the King Kullen in Hampton Bays. “We cannot receive if we don’t give back.” There are the regulars who donate daily, kids who stop by to empty their piggy banks to the charity and the occasional giver of a big bill. They all make it worth standing outside in the frigid air for eight hours, she says with a permanent smile, while shoppers stock up on supplies for a coming winter storm. “I embrace the cold,” Williams says. “I don’t let the weather stop me.” It helps that she makes plenty of friends who share their stories all day long. “I think I was chosen to do this because I’m very spiritual,” she says. “At my age to stand here, I’m just so blessed.”



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Timothy Bolger is the Managing Editor for the Long Island Press who’s been working to uncover unreported stories since shortly after it launched in 2003. When he’s not editing, getting hassled by The Man or fielding cold calls to the newsroom, he covers crime, general interest and political news in addition to reporting longer, sometimes investigative features. He won’t be happy until everyone is as pissed off as he is about how screwed up Lawn Guyland is.