Giancarlo & Luigi Bono: The Family Who Planted Firs
It’s a cold November morning. Sunrays struggle through grey clouds, snowflakes twirl in the air, yet nothing dampers the warm atmosphere of the Sapins Chez Michel kiosk at Jean Talon Market. With their contagious laughter and cheerfulness, Giancarlo Bono and his brother Luigi are buzy among the Christmas trees and seasonal decorations. Just as their parents did before them, and for the last fifty years, the Bono family is at the heart of the Little Italy market.
After selling flowers and vegetables during the summer months, the family business transitions to selling Christmas trees when the cold weather sets in; a tradition firmly rooted in the Bono family.
“I’ve spent all of my life in trees,” laughs Giancarlo, who started helping his parents at the market when he was only 8 or 9. He is 39 years old today.
This thirty-year experience in the business has given him an acute knowledge of sales, customer service and conifer cultivation.
The Art of Selling Christmas Trees
Nothing is left to chance at the Sapins Chez Michel kiosk, whether it be the trees’ display, the decorations, or the music, which varies according to the time of day.
“It’s an art,” explains Giancarlo, turning serious in contrast to his usual bonhomie, “Just like life is an art. An art that must bring enjoyment, come rain or snow, sleet or shine!”
“You must enjoy this job or else not do it at all. It’s too demanding, physically and otherwise,” says the shopkeeper who goes on listing the hazards of outdoor sales: the cold, the bad weather, the employees to manage, the 12-hour days…
For Giancarlo Bono, the joys of the job more than compensate for those minor inconveniences. First, there’s the pleasure of working with the family. With his brothers Luigi and Antonio, as when he was younger working with his parents, of whom he speaks with love and admiration. “Spending time with your parents is a privilege,” he says.
Then, there’s the joy of “selling living things.” “Watching something grow is one of the most beautiful things a human being can experience,” says the man who grows most of his trees on the family land in Weedon, in the Eastern Townships. “The relationship with the land is personal. It’s deeply spiritual, but experienced through the body, not the mind. Then, the gift of this land creates a bond between two human beings, me and the customer.”
A Precious Moment
Sapins Chez Michel has loyal customers who come to choose their tree year after year, they, sometimes, have been coming for decades. This again is precious.
“It may be 11 months and 29 days since I’ve seen a customer, but when he arrives at the kiosk, it’s as if it was yesterday,” says Giancarlo. “It’s like a long-lasting friendship. This bond is strong because what unites us is the highlight of the year: Christmas, the celebration of love!”
A celebration that takes on renewed importance in these times of pandemic and social distancing. In fact, Giancarlo expects Montrealers will decorate like never before to offset the gloom and distance.
“The absence of human contact has never been so great. When you feel an inner void, you have to fill it. Christmas can do that. COVID makes us reflect on what binds us together, whether it is the land or human beings. We need to take care of these bonds, and that’s what the holidays are for.”
So, more than ever this year, Giancarlo and his brothers make a point of ensuring that the time they spend with their customers picking out their holiday tree is a memorable experience.
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