DECEMBER 20, 2018, ALLSTON – “No Jew in the world has probably said ‘Merry Christmas’ to more people, more times, than me over the last four and a half decades,” said Lenny Rotman.
That may very well be true, because for the past 46 years, Rotman has owned and managed Boston Christmas Trees, one of Greater Boston’s most successful small businesses selling Christmas trees, gifts, and decorations.
“We’ve grown the business over the course of 40 years,” said Rotman, who is 71 and lives in Swampscott. “How do you sustain a small business over the long term? Given all the changes that have happened: the limitations in parking, and traffic, and big-box stores, and seeing small businesses come and go – mostly go – since the early ’70s, when we began; I think it’s an anomaly to still have some small, local corner businesses like us thriving.”
Rotman credits his business success to skills he learned from his father, Leo Rotman, a Polish immigrant who ran a traditional small Jewish business: a kosher butcher shop on Chestnut Hill Avenue in Brighton.
“I guess you could say that the DNA of running a small business is in the blood,” Rotman said.
He credits his success to positive relationships just as much as selling quality trees for competitive prices. “What’s important in a small business and our society today is having a relationship with people,” said Rotman. “Quite frankly, if you have to sell anything, selling something that people get so much joy out of is great. We’ve got customers that have come back to us for decades, and their children and grandchildren are now coming in and buying from us.”
Rotman grew up in Brighton, where he attended Congregation B’nai Moshe (and occasionally led services there), and attended Camp Young Judaea in Amherst, N.H. So how did a nice Jewish boy get into the Christmas tree business?
After serving in the military during the Vietnam War, Rotman spent a year working for a friend who owned Boston Christmas Trees. When Rotman’s friend decided he was no longer interested in running the business and offered it to him, Rotman jumped at the chance.
Rotman attends both Temple Emanu-El in Marblehead and Congregation Shirat Hayam in Swampscott. Inside his store, a handful of dreidels and a lone menorah look out at throngs of Christmas trees. He said that with intermarriage on the rise, an increasing amount of his customers are Jewish. Some of Rotman’s clients are Russian Jews, who buy trees to celebrate a New Year’s tradition from Soviet times known as Novy God.
Rotman gives away a number of trees to organizations such as the West End House Boys & Girls Club in Allston, a homeless shelter for Vietnam veterans, and other local nonprofits. He’s also raised thousands of dollars for Christmas in the City, which holds a large celebration and gives presents to homeless and impoverished children and their families in the Boston area.
“All the people who come in – we treat everyone the same,” said Rotman. “It doesn’t matter where you’re from, or how much you have. Everybody gets treated the same way, and I think there’s a respect and appreciation for that.”