Like many rust belt towns Reading, Pennsylvania has seen better days. Reading (sounds like red-ding) sits in the middle of Christmas Tree farm country. They had initially arranged to purchase a tree from a farmer in Schuylkill County. It rained heavily right before the tree was to be cut and delivered and the farmer wouldn’t allow the big truck needed to drive across his fields so they hastily came up with a plan B and went to a local park and cut the homely tree they have on display. After world wide weird news exposure they decided to keep the sparse spruce. Partly because City Council was too busy with real issues like budget deadlines to deal with a uh, holiday tree. Somehow it is fitting that the bedraggled downtown that has seen better days has come to terms with their tree. Here’s wishing Reading and all of you a happy, humble, and healthy start to your own holiday season. Big ups to the Reading City Council for having their priorities in order, too.
It’s a holly, folly Christmas: Reading reverses decision, says tree stays
Reading Eagle | November 24, 2014
Apparently unable to decide what they want for Christmas, city officials, who had agreed to remove the 50-foot holiday spruce from Penn Square, changed their minds on Monday.The droopy pine can stay in downtown as Reading’s official Christmas tree.
City Council President Francis G. Acosta didn’t reverse course until after the city endured a good needling over the “Charlie Brown tree” that has gained international attention.The decision to keep the tree came about 1 p.m. Monday after city workers spent the morning removing lights from the big tree and decorative fencing around it.
“It’s staying up,” declared Ralph Johnson, city public works director, over the noisy traffic.
Acosta had made plans to bring in a replacement tree for Penn Square. In explaining his reasons for the change Monday night, Acosta said city council members were preparing to vote on the 2015 city budget, and city workers were getting ready for a snowstorm expected to arrive Wednesday.
“We had to pass a budget and the Act 47 plan Monday night,” he said. “And Public Works was making me aware that the guys (city truck drivers) should be on the streets, making sure the streets are ready for the storm.
“Someone had to land this plane, so we could move forward.”
The national attention the existing tree received was also a factor.
Acosta said he wasn’t counting on the existing tree making national news.
“That tree became America’s ugly tree,” he said.
He said he did interviews for “Inside Edition,” The New York Times and New York Daily News, the Toronto News, CBS Radio and even worked with CBS-TV on programs that will air on Tuesday and Friday – trying to make negative news into something positive.
Acosta said he tried the replacement plan because he still believes the city deserves a better looking tree, and that a majority of city residents don’t like the existing tree. He noted he and Mayor Vaughn D. Spencer were working together on it.
He challenged the people who defended the tree, and the national organizations who belittled it, to step up and help with decorations. And he challenged them to come into the city, shop in the city, and get their photo taken with the tree.
Acosta said the decision will be made Tuesday on where his new tree will go. It will either be just inside City Park at 11th and Penn streets, or in the triangle at Second and Penn so motorists can see it coming across the Penn Street Bridge.
The latter choice will depend on if that triangle has a strong enough electricity supply.
Spencer said he was stumped Monday afternoon when told the city’s tree was staying in Penn Square.
“That was news to me,” Spencer said.
Spencer said he received a call from Acosta but was in meetings in the morning. When the two finally spoke, Acosta informed the mayor that the tree could stay where it was, despite the work that was already done to remove it.
In a press release announcing the decision to keep the city tree in Penn Square, officials said City Hall had been flooded with calls from around the country. Half of those who called City Hall said that the tree should go, and half said that the tree should stay, the city release said.
Originally, Reading was going to buy a tree from a Schuylkill County farmer, but on the day it was supposed to be picked up, the farmer refused to let trucks drive across his wet field.
City workers then cut the 50-foot spruce from Egelman Park.
But almost immediately, the city tree developed detractors, who bristled that its poor appearance represented Reading’s sluggish recovery.
Acosta volunteered to buy a substitute at a local tree farm. The 22-foot replacement spruce was about to be delivered on Monday when he changed his mind.
During his conversation with Acosta, Spencer said he told the city council president that he didn’t want the big tree turned into mulch before Christmas, despite its appearance. He would be OK replacing it, but wanted to see it put up in City Park and decorated.
“I said Friday night and I’ll say it again, it’s our tree and we should embrace it,” Spencer said.