By Bryan Marquard
OSTERVILLE, Mass. (Boston Globe) — Imagine that it’s late June in 2003 and you’re standing inside the Christmas Tree Shops in Yarmouth Port, those manors of merchandise that Chuck Bilezikian built into a sprawling empire with his wife and two sons. A few days earlier, the Bilezikians had announced that they were selling their business to Bed Bath & Beyond, but on that summer afternoon you could grab a door wreath covered with plastic shells and starfish for $4.99, a 26-piece flashlight set for $3.99, or scores of other items you never thought you needed before stepping through the door.
Those low prices and the giddy array of shopping possibilities were largely the work of Bilezikian, who was a “visionary,” his wife, Doreen, told the Globe in 2000.
He got to know his customers very well,” recalled Ed Mullin, who ran the company’s administration and finance division for many years. Mr. Bilezikian, Mullin said, would seek out a potential new item “and would look at the product and say, ‘My customers would pay $1.99 for that.’” Then Bilezikian would figure out how to buy in bulk so he could resell each item at precisely the price he had named.
A philanthropist for many causes after selling the Christmas Tree Shops, He died Tuesday, July 26, in his Osterville home of pancreatic cancer. He was 79 and had divided his time between Osterville and Palm Beach, Fla.
As a slogan, the Christmas Tree Shops adopted a phrase that was both a question and a challenge: “Don’t you just love a bargain?” Virtually everyone did, and nearly no one could resist the offerings. Shoppers who thought they could breeze through and escape empty-handed often left with one or two items — or one or two dozen. Bus tours, Mullin said, would load up in New Jersey in the morning, visit a few Christmas Tree Shops locations, and head home at night.