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The end of an era — all year round — as Christmas Tree Shops files for bankruptcy protection

The Massachusetts-based discount chain said it will close up to 10 stores amid financial restructuring

The Christmas Tree Shops store on Old Oak Street in Pembroke.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

For more than a half century, Christmas Tree Shops has catered to customers’ insatiable thirst for inexpensive trinkets and decor all year, despite its holiday-oriented name. Anything from wrapping paper to beach chairs is sold at a discount, and customers flocked to a heavily marketed slogan: “Don’t you just love a bargain?”

Now the bargains may never be the same.

On Friday, the New England retail staple filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, which means the business will stay open and restructure its finances under court supervision by August. But owner Handil Holdings announced in a statement that the move will likely to lead to the closure of up to 10 its 82 stores, which include 15 in Massachusetts and four in New Hampshire. (The chain’s intent to file bankruptcy was first reported by The Wall Street Journal.)


“This is strictly a financial restructuring,” chairman Marc Salkovit said in a statement, which also announced $45 million in new financing to fund operations during Chapter 11. “Our operations are sound. By increasing our financial flexibility, we will be able to focus on continuing to delight our loyal customers with a wide selection of unique goods at affordable prices.”

Still, the news has upset longtime shoppers who wistfully remember buying marshmallow roasting sticks for the Fourth of July and ornaments for Christmas here. (One Twitter user jokingly said, “I remember having to go as a kid, and it always smelling weird.”)

“It’s unbelievable,” said Loretta Bradley, a Tewksbury resident walking out of the Somerville store Friday with finds for a Kentucky Derby party this weekend: two serving bowls imprinted with watermelon slices ($2.99 each) and a dish towel monogrammed with a “P” for her friend Pam ($1.99).

“Where else,” she mused, “can you find stuff like this?”

Bonnie Sestito, another Christmas Tree Shops superfan, came in to browse Friday after hearing about the bankruptcy, worried it would close before she had a chance. Among her past purchases? Birdseed, toiletries, and snacks.


“Today, I’m here just to be here,” Sestito said, while holding a mitt designed to help clean houseplants, which she admittedly did not need. “It’s a really nice place to shop.”

The Christmas Tree Shops franchise has a storied history in Massachusetts. In the 1950s, a couple opened “The Christmas Tree Gift Shop” in Yarmouth Port on Cape Cod from May to October, according to Good Housekeeping. In the ‘70s, it changed hands to Chuck and Doreen Bilezikian, who expanded the store to include toys and summertime staples, and over the next three decades opened 24 additional locations in New England and New York.

Their son, Greg Bilezikian, said his family came into retail at just the right time, when big-box retailers — including Walmart, Pier 1 Imports, and Crate and Barrel — were expanding rapidly. The news about possible bankruptcy is heartbreaking but not entirely surprising, he added.

Christmas Tree Shops “was all we knew growing up,” said Bilezikian, who now runs “Just Picked Gifts” in Yarmouth. “It was a lot of fun for a lot of people. [The bankruptcy has] brought up emotions for different parts of the family now. But I understand. The world has changed. It’s evolving, and it’s hard to be an entrepreneur in retail today.”

Body boards were among the merchandise for sale at Christmas Tree Shops in Pembroke on Friday.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

In 2003, Bed Bath and Beyond bought Christmas Tree Shops from the Bilezikians for $200 million and expanded the franchise to 20 states. In November 2020, it sold the company to Middleborough-based Handil Holdings LLC, for an undisclosed sum. (Just last month, Bed Bath and Beyond filed for bankruptcy itself to the dismay of loyal customers and couponers.)


Over the years, the Christmas Tree Shops have been heralded for their architecture as much as their inventory. Many locations are designed to fit the charm of old Victorian and Colonial-style buildings. The location on Route 1 in Lynnfield, next to what was once The Ship restaurant, has a lighthouse, despite being 10 miles from the ocean; another at the Sagamore Bridge rotary in Cape Cod features an enormous windmill. And the shop at Somerville’s Assembly Row boasts an impressive clock tower on top, often a resting spot for pigeons.

But by Friday, that storefront saw a dwindling stream of customers and a few empty shelves.

Edgar Dworsky, founder of Consumer World, said he’d noticed those signs of struggle when he’d stop in these past few weeks. Usual displays of large pots, fresh flowers, and patio chairs had disappeared in Somerville. (It has not yet been confirmed whether this storefront — or any local one — will close in the bankruptcy proceedings.)

“I knew there was something wrong stock-wise days ago,” he added. “They just didn’t have the breadth of goods they usually have. They closed off the left side of the store. They built a wall out of shelves with toiletries and health and beauty aids.”


An Arlington woman who declined to share her name also said Christmas Tree Shops is now the remnant of a fading business model. The COVID-19 pandemic and growing dominance of online shopping have strained retailers these past three years. Similar big box companies, including JC Penney and Lord and Taylor, have filed for bankruptcy since 2020.

Even here at the Somerville shop, prices are going up, and inventory is floundering.

“$2.50 used to be the magic number here,” she added. “Now almost nothing goes for that much.”

Yet despite the gradual uptick in prices, several people Friday told the Globe that the Shops remain their favorite store.

Brockton native Marjorie Goodwin said she visits often to pick up “whatever catches her eye” — Easter-themed welcome mats and tiny craft-size American flags among them. “I’ll be sad to see it go.”

While holding jumbo boxes of Victor Allen single brew coffee cups, Elaine Ross of Revere had a more positive spin.

“It’s a little disappointing,” she said. “But maybe it’ll help me cut back on my spending.”

Diti Kohli can be reached at her @ditikohli_.