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For six decades, the McCullerses have been selling Christmas trees in Hillsborough

They saw the chain stores eat into their business. But they’ll stay at it, even with just the Plant High School lot remaining.
In a photo from 1998, Lanny McCullers and son Lance McCullers Sr. post L&M Christmas Tree signs around the company's main lot at the time, on West Fletcher Avenue in North Tampa. The father died and the business has dwindled from 22 lots to just one, but Lance Sr. said he has every intention to stay with it.
In a photo from 1998, Lanny McCullers and son Lance McCullers Sr. post L&M Christmas Tree signs around the company's main lot at the time, on West Fletcher Avenue in North Tampa. The father died and the business has dwindled from 22 lots to just one, but Lance Sr. said he has every intention to stay with it. [ TIMES FILES | Tampa Bay Times ]
Published Dec. 23, 2019|Updated Dec. 24, 2019

TAMPA — Major League Baseball fans know the McCullerses for their strong arms.

Lance McCullers Sr. pitched seven years in the majors and son Lance Jr. won a World Series with the Houston Astros in 2017.

But people in Hillsborough County know the work of the McCullers family for another reason: They’ve been selling Christmas trees here for more than 60 years.

“I think we’ve been doing it for as long as there’s been Christmas,” Lance McCullers Sr. said with a laugh, working the space he rents each season at the Plant High School parking lot.

Five days before Christmas, McCullers was wrapping up another holiday season. The two tents that housed the inventory of L&M Christmas Tree had been taken down and just a few dozen trees remained, leaned against a fence.

“We’ll stick around for people who need one last minute,” said McCullers, 55, who also operates a landscaping business. “But we’re pretty much done.”

In a few months, McCullers will fly to Christmas tree farms in North Carolina, Wisconsin and Washington to pick next year’s’ crop.

“This year, we carried Fraser fir and noble fir but there are so many to choose from,” he said, listing them off like Bubba did shrimp in the movie Forrest Gump.

“There’s balsam fir, Douglas fir, white pine, Scotch pine, Virginia pine, blue spruce, Black Hills spruce. I could go on and on."

Lance McCullers, who runs the Christmas tree lot at Plant High School, will be flying north in the coming months to pick trees for next year.
Lance McCullers, who runs the Christmas tree lot at Plant High School, will be flying north in the coming months to pick trees for next year. [ Tampa Tribune ]

His father, Lanny McCullers, played defensive tackle for the University of Florida football team.

In 1958, he bought the tree business from an uncle.

“He worked for his uncle for years, but I don’t know for how long," McCullers said. “His parents loaned him the money and he went from there and grew it" while practicing law.

Today, Plant High is the business’ sole lot.

But, at the company’s peak, McCullers said, his father sold more than 12,000 trees each season from 22 lots.

For years, the hub was a parking lot at 716 W. Fletcher Ave. Other lots were at Chamberlain, Sickles and King high schools.

Besides paying rent to the Hillsborough County School District, the family has given a portion of the proceeds to each school’s athletic foundation.

McCullers was 4 or 5 when he began working for his father.

“I’d run around all day and pick up string,” he said. “It doesn’t get any better for a kid than working at place with all those Christmas trees.”

He began operating lots in 1983, starting with the one at Plant High.

Two years later, he pitched his first game for the San Diego Padres and we nt on to compile a 3.25 earned run average over seven seasons, including stints with the New York Yankees, Detroit Tigers and Texas Rangers

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Still, he’d be back in Tampa helping his father sell trees during the off season.

After his father died in 2000, McCullers took over the family business at a time when it had dwindled to nine lots.

McCullers he decided to focus on the one lot six years ago.

“It’s tougher,” he said. “Home Depot and Lowes have hurt everybody.”

Still, McCullers said, “We’re not stopping. It’s in our blood.”

His 24-year-old son Ryan McCullers is now part of the business. He delivers trees to customers as far ways as St. Petersburg and can foresee running the company one day.

“What’s better than being part of Christmas?” he said.

Jerry Jenks, 69, who has worked for the McCullers family since he was 14, echoed that sentiment. “We get people in the Christmas spirit.”

McCullers recalled one of the first customers he helped as manager of the Plant High lot in 1983.

"She didn’t want it to have one hole,” McCullers said. “It had to be full all around” because she put it on a spinning stand in the middle of her living room.

McCullers estimated he carried nearly a dozen trees to her before she found the perfect one.

She later told him the tree was the hit of her Christmas party.

“She stayed loyal for years,” he said.

She now lives in Georgia, but, while, visiting Tampa last week, she stopped by to say hello.

“That’s why we do this," McCullers said. “We create memories.”

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