Ed Dart’s iconic Southold Christmas tree farm will close after this season

For more than a half century, Ed Dart has been selling Christmas trees, hand-made wreaths and other items such as tiny reindeer made by his own staff from the limbs of birch trees.

The 18th century barn on his Southold farm is a monument to the season. Ornaments of all kinds hang from beautifully decorated trees. In the back, in what used to be Mr. Dart’s mother’s chicken coop, handmade Christmas wreaths are assembled for sale.

But for all these years what he has really been selling is nostalgia.

“For all this time, people have come to this farm for their Christmas things,” he said on a recent chilly afternoon. “They have come from all over, from Queens, from Brooklyn, year after year. Coming here at this time of year became a very strong family event, spread over multiple generations. Yes, I was selling trees – but it was so much more than that for my customers.”

This Christmas season will be the last for Mr. Dart. He has already told the bad news to many loyal customers who have come by to buy trees, wreaths or ornaments or to just feel the joy walking through the old barn. He said the farm’s tree nursery business will remain open.

“It’s the Christmas part that takes a lot of work,” he said. “This is my fifty-third year doing this. I’m tired. It’s been the focus from my wife and me for a long time. I know how important this has been to so many people over the years. I fully understand that. I get it. I hear their stories every time they come out. It can be very emotional for them.”

Recently, Mr. Dart explained as he showed a visitor the hand-hewn beams in the barn, which dates to the mid-1700s, a woman from Long Beach drove out to buy one of his painted trees. Her reason for the long drive was specific: she wanted one of Mr.  Dart’s purple trees.

She wore all purple clothes, Mr. Dart recalled. The color, she explained, was her daughter’s favorite.

“It turns out the last time she came out to buy a tree here was 13 years ago,” he said. “That year, on the day after Christmas, her daughter died. She had not come out in 12 years but came this year. It was important for her to do this, to honor her daughter. For her, coming here was so much more than just buying a Christmas tree – it was so much more than that.”

On another busy day, a Ukrainian man from Queens came all the way to Southold to buy his tree, as did the family of a retired New York City police detective. As they tied the tree onto the top of their car, they explained that they loved coming to Dart’s Christmas Tree Farm in spite of the long drive.

Mr. Dart’s Southold farm has been in his family for more than a century. It was bought by his maternal grandfather, George Downs.  At some point, perhaps in the 1960s, Mr. Downs, who sold produce grown on the farm to the summer residents down on Paradise Point, began planting fir trees for sale. Three of the Douglas firs planted by Fred Dart – Ed Dart’s father – are still standing today – tall and stout along the road onto the farm.

“These were the first ones he planted – look how big they got!” Mr. Dart said as he stood by one of the trees. “This is how it all started.”

Fred Dart taught chemistry in Southold High School for 40 years. “I had the humiliation of having my father as my chemistry teacher,” he said. “But I did get an 89 on the Regents exam.”

On the side, Fred Dart expanded the tree business and, years later, Ed Dart, who had worked in the insurance business, took over and turned Dart’s into the iconic North Fork landmark it has become. The beautifully decorated barn is a testament to he and his wife, Judy’s, vision of a classic Christmas shop. Ms. Dart has been the talent behind the wreath-making part of the business.

“It’s been a joy, but over the years I didn’t know when to stop,” Mr. Dart explained. “I should have when I hit the fifty-year mark, a nice round number.”

One of the most successful parts of the Christmas business has been the cut-your-own tree option. “We were one of the first out here to do that,” Mr. Dart said. “People drove all the way out here just for that.

“I know how important this has been to so many people for so many years,” he added. “I’ve heard so many stories about families that came here. I know we’ve been important to many people. Judy and I are in our mid-seventies. My body can’t keep up with the business.”

Mr. Dart said the nursery business on the farm will continue. “I have to honor the land and my family’s history,” he said. “That won’t end.”