7 Wholesale Facts About Christmas Tree Shops

Lauren Siegert, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Lauren Siegert, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Newsflash: The HoneyBaked Ham Company doesn’t just sell hams, and the Christmas Tree Shops doesn't just sell Christmas trees. If you have a hankering to buy a turkey sandwich at the former and a bottle of sunscreen at the latter, well, you’re in luck! Yes, it’s a crazy, mixed-up world we’re living in these days, but that’s the cold, hard reality of it. (Interestingly enough, you can buy a real ham at the HoneyBaked Ham Company but you cannot buy a real Christmas tree at the Christmas Tree Shops.)

Since its original founding as The Christmas Tree Gift Shop in the 1950s in the sleepy Cape Cod town of Yarmouth Port, Massachusetts, Christmas Tree Shops has grown from one modest location to more than 70 outposts in 21 states nationwide. So since it’s that time of year again, why not get into the holiday spirit with some facts about everybody’s favorite Christmas-themed (but not really) liquidation outlet. Plus: We’re going to give you seven facts for the price of five. “Don’t you just love a bargain?”

1. THERE’S A SIMPLE REASON WHY IT’S "SHOPS" AND NOT "SHOP."

The Christmas Tree Gift Shop (as it was originally called) was founded by couple Mark and Alice Matthews in the 1950s in a barn in Yarmouth Port, Massachusetts. The business was purchased in 1970 by Chuck and Doreen Bilezikian, who converted the original store into three, separate spaces: The Barn Shop, The Front Shop, and The Back Shop. Which is how "Shop" turned into "Shops." See? It makes perfect sense!

2. IT WAS ORIGINALLY JUST ABOUT CHRISTMAS.

Christmas decorations for sale in a store
iStock

For the novice shopper, "Christmas Tree Shops" brings to mind thoughts of wreaths and jingle bells, not suntan lotion and lawn chairs. In the 1950s, before the Bilezikians bought the store, one would have been right. Originally The Christmas Tree Gift Shop was exclusively about Christmas. It was only open May through October and sold strictly Christmas gifts and ornaments to summer tourists.

3. IT’S NOT JUST ABOUT CHRISTMAS ANYMORE.

Little boy shops for a beach shovel
iStock

Once the Bilezikians purchased the store, they had far greater aspirations than just selling stocking stuffers and tree ornaments. They turned the store into a year-round liquidation outlet selling everything from home decor to beach umbrellas to a 26-piece flashlight set for $3.99. Of course you could still get your fill of stocking stuffers. Immense popularity and success forced the Bilezikians to rapidly expand. They built their first Shops outside of Cape Cod in 1981 and by the time they sold their empire to Bed Bath & Beyond in 2003, they had amassed 23 locations.

4. THEY HAD A BRANDING PROBLEM.

Christmas trees for sale
iStock

In 2003, Bed Bath & Beyond spent $200 million to purchase Christmas Tree Shops and began a rapid expansion of the bargain chain. But BB&B quickly realized that they had an image problem: They determined that customers seemed to associate the Christmas Tree Shops exclusively with, wait for it, Christmas! In an attempt to make it clear to would-be customers that this was far from the case, in 2013 they began renaming their new stores Christmas Tree Shops andThat!, or, just andThat!

5. THE OWNERS LIVED RIGHT ABOVE THE ORIGINAL SHOP.

Shelves in a retail store
iStock

When then Bilezikians first bought the store, they actually lived in an apartment above it! “On Friday nights—because everything was so geared to the weekend—we would put the kids in pajamas, go downstairs, and stock the store,” Doreen recalled. "We grew up in it,” the Bilezikians' eldest son, Greg, told the Massachusetts Institute of Business. “That was our life. I remember stocking shelves in our pajamas.”

6. CHUCK BILEZIKIAN HAD A GREAT MEMORY.

JJBers, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Chuck was known for being very close to his employees and for remembering intimate details about all of them, even after the Shops expanded and his staff grew significantly. “He would walk over to an employee and say, ‘Hi, Mary. How are you? How’s your son John? Is he still having problems with math?" Ed Mullin, a company executive for many years, said of his former boss, who passed away in 2016.

"When we had a few stores, he did it, and when we had a lot of stores, he did it," Mullin conintued. "He just had that love of people. He would engage in conversations with his employees, and it wasn’t just a thing to do. He enjoyed it, and he remembered them. You can’t put a value on that.”

7. THE ORIGINAL STORE IS STILL IN THE BILEZIKIAN FAMILY'S POSSESSION.

Shoppers look through the window of a store
iStock

When Bed, Bath & Beyond purchased the company, they didn't want to take possession of all the retail locations. One store that they weren't interested in acquiring was the Yarmouth Port barn where it all began. When attempts to find a new tenant for the store were unsuccessful, Greg Bilezikian decided to follow in his parents' footsteps and open a story of his own, called Just Picked Gifts, in the original Christmas Tree Shops's location.

10 Rad Gifts for Hikers

Greg Rosenke/Unsplash
Greg Rosenke/Unsplash

The popularity of bird-watching, camping, and hiking has skyrocketed this year. Whether your gift recipients are weekend warriors or seasoned dirtbags, they'll appreciate these tools and gear for getting most out of their hiking experience.

1. Stanley Nesting Two-Cup Cookset; $14

Amazon

Stanley’s compact and lightweight cookset includes a 20-ounce stainless steel pot with a locking handle, a vented lid, and two insulated 10-ounce tumblers. It’s the perfect size for brewing hot coffee, rehydrating soup, or boiling water while out on the trail with a buddy. And as some hardcore backpackers note in their Amazon reviews, your favorite hiker can take the tumblers out and stuff the pot with a camp stove, matches, and other necessities to make good use of space in their pack.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Osprey Sirrus and Stratos 24-Liter Hiking Packs; $140

Amazon

Osprey’s packs are designed with trail-tested details to maximize comfort and ease of use. The Sirrus pack (pictured) is sized for women, while the Stratos fits men’s proportions. Both include an internal sleeve for a hydration reservoir, exterior mesh and hipbelt pockets, an attachment for carrying trekking poles, and a built-in rain cover.

Buy them: Amazon, Amazon

3. Yeti Rambler 18-Ounce Bottle; $48

Amazon

Nothing beats ice-cold water after a summer hike or a sip of hot tea during a winter walk. The Yeti Rambler can serve up both: Beverages can stay hot or cold for hours thanks to its insulated construction, and its steel body (in a variety of colors) is basically indestructible. It will add weight to your hiker's pack, though—for a lighter-weight, non-insulated option, the tried-and-true Camelbak Chute water bottle is incredibly sturdy and leakproof.

Buy it: Amazon

4. Mappinners Greatest 100 Hikes of the National Parks Scratch-Off Poster; $30

Amazon

The perfect gift for park baggers in your life (or yourself), this 16-inch-by-20-inch poster features epic hikes like Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park and Half Dome in Yosemite National Park. Once the hike is complete, you can scratch off the gold foil to reveal an illustration of the park.

Buy it: Amazon

5. National Geographic Adventure Edition Road Atlas; $19

Amazon

Hikers can use this brand-new, updated road atlas to plan their next adventure. In addition to comprehensive maps of all 50 states, Puerto Rico, Canada, and Mexico, they'll get National Geographic’s top 100 outdoor destinations, useful details about the most popular national parks, and points on the maps noting off-the-beaten-path places to explore.  

Buy it: Amazon

6. Adventure Medical Kits Hiker First-Aid Kit; $25

Amazon

This handy 67-piece kit is stuffed with all the things you hope your hiker will never need in the wilderness. Not only does it contain supplies for pain, cuts and scrapes, burns, and blisters (every hiker’s nemesis!), the items are organized clearly in the bag to make it easy to find tweezers or an alcohol wipe in an emergency.

Buy it: Amazon

7. Hiker Hunger Ultralight Trekking Poles; $70

Amazon

Trekking poles will help increase your hiker's balance and stability and reduce strain on their lower body by distributing it to their arms and shoulders. This pair is made of carbon fiber, a super-strong and lightweight material. From the sweat-absorbing cork handles to the selection of pole tips for different terrain, these poles answer every need on the trail. 

Buy it: Amazon

8. Leatherman Signal Camping Multitool; $120

Amazon

What can’t this multitool do? This gadget contains 19 hiking-friendly tools in a 4.5-inch package, including pliers, screwdrivers, bottle opener, saw, knife, hammer, wire cutter, and even an emergency whistle.

Buy it: Amazon

9. RAVPower Power Bank; $24

Amazon

Don’t let your hiker get caught off the grid with a dead phone. They can charge RAVPower’s compact power bank before they head out on the trail, and then use it to quickly juice up a phone or tablet when the batteries get low. Its 3-inch-by-5-inch profile won’t take up much room in a pack or purse.

Buy it: Amazon

10. Pack of Four Indestructible Field Books; $14

Amazon

Neither rain, nor snow, nor hail will be a match for these waterproof, tearproof 3.5-inch-by-5.5-inch notebooks. Your hiker can stick one in their pocket along with a regular pen or pencil to record details of their hike or brainstorm their next viral Tweet.

Buy it: Amazon

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8 Surprising Facts About Jean-Claude Van Damme

Jean-Claude Van Damme.
Jean-Claude Van Damme.
Patrick Aventurier, Getty Images

While Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone were considered the apex of the 1980s action movie hero, genre fans found a more graceful alternative in Jean-Claude Van Damme. The Belgian-born actor and martial artist used his flexibility to great effect in action classics like 1988’s Bloodsport, 1989’s Kickboxer, and 1994’s Timecop. For more on the “Muscles from Brussels,” including his competitive fighting background and why he once challenged Steven Seagal to a real fight in Stallone’s backyard, read on.

1. Jean-Claude Van Damme was a ballet “nerd.”

Jean Claude Van Damme attends the Cannes Film Festival.Francois Durand/Getty Images

Kicking out of his mother’s womb on October 18, 1960 in Berchem-Sainte-Agathe, Brussels, Belgium, the future Van Damme was born Jean-Claude Camille François Van Varenberg. (He used the stage name “Frank Cujo” before settling on Van Damme.) A self-described “nerd,” Van Damme studied karate and ballet in his youth, the latter for five years. He said his father encouraged him to take karate in order for the bespectacled Van Damme to be able to toughen up. But Van Damme also said ballet greatly aided his martial arts ability and screen presence.

“I was always attracted to ballet because of the dexterity, the stretching, the grace, and the fact that you are able to control without showing any pain on your face,” Van Damme told the Chicago Tribune in 1993. “I mixed the grace and the movement with the power of karate. It’s been a big help in my movies.”

2. Jean-Claude Van Damme worked as a bouncer for Chuck Norris.

Van Damme operated a gym in Brussels and had success in bodybuilding and modeling, but he wanted to act. Heading to Hollywood in his early 20s to pursue his dreams of stardom, Van Damme picked up bits parts in films like 1984’s Monaco Forever (he was officially credited as “Gay Karate Man”) and a future GIF-worthy scene in 1984’s Breakin’ while working as a cab driver, waiter, and bouncer, among other odd jobs. Most notably, he bounced for Woody’s Wharf, a bar owned by martial arts icon Chuck Norris. “American people are big people,” Van Damme told The Hollywood Reporter in 2019. “I didn’t have any fight, thank God. I was a good schmoozer, simpatico and no incident happened.”

3. Jean-Claude Van Damme got his big break by throwing kicks at a producer’s head.

Jean-Claude Van Damme in Bloodsport (1988).Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc.

After a tense shoot on 1987’s Predator, in which Van Damme was cast as the titular alien but was replaced during production, the actor wanted to find a role better-suited to his talents. One day, he found himself crossing paths with B-movie producer Menahem Golan. Seizing the opportunity, Van Damme began launching kicks at Golan, stopping short of connecting. This earned him a meeting in Golan’s office, in which a shirtless Van Damme convinced Golan he was skilled, charismatic, and most importantly, cheap. Golan cast him in 1988’s Bloodsport, a martial arts tournament film ostensibly based on the real-life exploits of Frank Dux. Van Damme helped re-cut the film with screenwriter Sheldon Lettich and Carl Kress, an editor who worked on 1974’s The Towering Inferno. Bloodsport went on to make $65 million, turning Van Damme into an overnight star.

4. Jean-Claude Van Damme once threw a papaya at a producer’s head.

The success of Bloodsport led to steady work for Van Damme, who appeared in 1989’s Kickboxer, 1990’s Lionheart, and 1991’s Double Impact. In the latter, he played twins out to avenge the death of their father. But the production was troubled. In 2019, Van Damme told Yahoo! that the producer of the film was attempting to divert funds from Double Impact to 1991’s Stone Cold, an action vehicle for NFL star Brian Bosworth. Van Damme grew so upset that he threw a papaya at the producer’s head. “Thank God he ducked,” Van Damme said. “[It splattered] all over the wall. And he just ran away to the airport. I was crazy at the time. You just don’t touch my movie.”

5. Jean-Claude Van Damme once challenged Steven Seagal to a fight at Sylvester Stallone’s house.

According to Sylvester Stallone, a fight between the two action stars nearly happened off-camera. In 1997, Stallone invited both Van Damme and actor Steven Seagal to a house party at Stallone’s property in Miami, Florida. At some point, Van Damme expressed irritation that Seagal had previously claimed he could best Van Damme in a fight. Van Damme demanded Seagal follow him outside to settle it, which Stallone claimed Seagal avoided. Later, the two were at a nightclub when Van Damme again confronted Seagal, who slipped out “like Houdini,” according to Stallone.

6. Jean-Claude Van Damme knows his film titles can get repetitive.

Many Van Damme films have some variation of “death” or “dead” in the title, a fact Van Damme is well aware of. Promoting his Amazon Prime series Jean-Claude Van Johnson in 2017, the actor joked about the generic flavor of the films. “For a while, I was kind of forgotten there,” he told Rolling Stone. "'OK, Jean-Claude, what’s he doing?' Sudden Death, March of Death, Dead Dead Dead, and Double Dead, and what was the last one? Dead on Dead.” Van Damme's most recent live-action feature was 2019's We Die Young.

7. Jean-Claude Van Damme gave one of Time magazine’s Great Movie Performances of 2008.

At times dismissed for being more of a physical performer than an actor, Van Damme earned critical praise in 2008 for JCVD, a meta film in which he portrays himself dealing with both a bank heist and the torment of self-reflection. In one six-minute monologue, Van Damme lays himself bare. TIME dubbed it one of the great performances of the year.

8. Jean-Claude Van Damme has two statues dedicated in his honor.

In 2012, a statue paying tribute to Van Damme debuted in Brussels, Belgium in front of the Westland Shopping Center. The towering sculpture depicts Van Damme in a martial arts posture, ready to strike. Van Damme also has a second statue sporting his likeness, this one in the country of Azerbaijan. The piece, which features Van Damme doing his trademark splits, is located in the village of Vandam.