Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Friday, Dec. 20, 2013 | 2 a.m.
The hardest job Dave and Patty Riley have ever worked is selling Christmas trees and pumpkins in the Las Vegas Valley.
For the past 14 years, the retired couple from Yuma, Ariz., has managed a Christmas tree and pumpkin lot for Stu Miller’s Seasonal Adventures in Henderson. From September to Dec. 24, they live in a tiny RV on a lot on Stephanie Street near American Pacific Drive. There, they work 12-hour days, seven days a week.
They put up with grueling heat in pumpkin season and freezing nights during Christmas tree season. Every year, they swear it will be their last, but deep down they know it isn’t true. Their employees count on them, and so do multiple generations of families who have made their memories buying pumpkins and trees from Dave and Patty. Plus, the job keeps them young.
It’s a holiday tradition.
The Sun caught up with the Rileys to discuss the business of selling Christmas trees. Here is what they had to say:
How did you get into the business of selling Christmas trees and pumpkins?
Dave: Fourteen years ago, we were working in an amusement park, and it was a word-of-mouth thing. They said, ‘Hey, you oughta try this.’ So we thought we’d give it a try. They said it would be a hard job, and we had no idea. It is the hardest job I’ve done my entire life because you live here and you’re here 24/7.
We were down at Sunset Station in 1999 before they had any strip malls or any of those things in there, and it was all dirt. Really, the rest is history. Every year, we say we’re not going to do it again, but then we say, ‘Gosh, it really wasn’t so bad.’
Patty: We love the following. The people that come to us are like our extended family, and our workers are, too.
What do you think the allure is of a real Christmas tree over a fake one?
Dave: A lot of people come in here, they always had a plastic tree. Maybe they want a member of a family to remember the smell of a new tree. Also from an environmental point of view, it takes a lot to make a plastic tree, it takes a lot of petroleum.
Patty: It is a family outing. They’ll take pictures. Our trees are really wonderful quality. We’re proud to work for this company.
What does it take to care for the trees and the lot?
Dave: When they’re set up, they’re fresh cut and put in water immediately. We baby them. The rest of them are under burlap, and we water them daily and take good care of them so people go home with the highest-quality tree there is.
How busy have you been this year?
Patty: This year has been phenomenal. There used to be a time on Sunset where Christmas trees were the major event. But people are spending money this year on trees, which means the economy is changing.
What keeps you coming back each year?
Dave: Two things: Our employees depend on us. We are their mainstay; they know we’re going to hire them and take care of them. We’re a family. We now have kids we hired who now have kids of their own. That makes you feel old. The other driving thing is I can’t imagine if we’d never done this, what shape we’d be in. This is my Jenny Craig. I always lose 14 pounds. Patty loses weight. She’s been learning things on the computer. We’re not computer people. We just mastered the ATM machine two years ago.