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Christmas tree tribute snowballs into a bustling business

For Matt Bliss, Modern Christmas Trees are all about honoring the legacy of his late grandfather, Lawrence “Bud” Stoecker.

An aerospace engineer turned prolific builder of A-frame cabins in the Rockies, Stoecker devised a Space Age substitute for the typical ornament-laden evergreen or one of its plastic facsimiles.

His tree-shaped cones of concentric rings, bedecked with lights and baubles, were born as cardboard prototypes in the mid-1960s, then Stoecker moved to Plexiglass for the real deal for his home in Broomfield.

Stoecker passed away in 2012 after battling Alzheimer’s disease, and Bliss started a company and patented the design to highlight his grandfather’s illustrious life. Each tree features Stoecker’s signature engraved on the bottom ring. “It started out as a tribute,” Bliss says.

But the market responded, and a real business emerged. “It’s a design that solves a lot of problems,” Bliss says.

It’s easy to set up and store, Bliss says, but more importantly, “The tree is a unique symbol of Christmas that’s maybe non-denominational on some level. It fits well in lobbies and different businesses as an all-inclusive symbol of the holidays that resonates with a lot of people.”

The Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim, California, was an early customer. The idea also won over investor Barbara Corcoran when Bliss pitched it on “Shark Tank” in 2017.

His Denver-based company now sells a wide variety of Modern Christmas Trees, ranging from a $289 tabletop model to a deluxe, pre-decorated 10-footer for $1,499, as well as custom trees that top out at about 50 feet. Bliss works with a crew of four employees and a variety of vendors to produce the trees, with Laird Plastics in Denver handling most of the manufacturing.

Bliss says sales are snowballing at a rate of “about 70% a year.” Roughly two-thirds of the business is residential, with hotels and office buildings making up a large part of the remaining commercial market. The lobbies of such hotels as the Four Seasons in San Francisco and Fairmont Dubai sport Modern Christmas Trees for the holiday season.

Sales hit more than 1,000 trees and $700,000 in 2019 and Bliss expects similar results in 2020.

The success allows the business to give back in the form of tree donations to nonprofits. “That’s been really cool,” he says. “We auctioned off a couple trees to the LGBTQ center in Palm Springs. Each tree raised over $1,500.”

Dee Chirafisi, founder of Kentwood City Properties in Denver, is one of Bliss’ satisfied customers. She hadn’t spent Christmas at home in a dozen years before 2019, so Chirafisi looked to a 10-foot, pre-decorated Modern Christmas Tree to spruce up her townhome downtown. “That got us in the spirit,” she says. And Bliss was very helpful: “He came over and helped us set it up.”

In light of the pandemic, Chirafisi is also spending her 2020 holiday season in Denver. “We love it,” she says. “We’re looking forward to setting it up this year.”