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Friends continue tradition of selling Christmas trees in Sewickley

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Joanne Barron | Sewickley Herald
Ernie Kosack, 81, of Sewickley looks at one of the trees for sale at the corner of Chestnut and Thorn streets in Sewickley. Kosack has been helping his friend Al Mendicino sell Christmas trees for about 40 years.

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By Joanne Barron
Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

The little shelter at the corner of Chestnut and Thorn streets in Sewickley is the typical kind used by “Christmas tree guys,” said Bill Frissell and Ernie Kosack, as they huddled inside with some warm coffee and doughnuts, and the small heater in the corner struggled to pump out some heat.

Outside, dozens of Douglas and Fraser fir trees await their potential owners — although Kosack said they deliver a blue spruce to Pittsburgh Penguins owner Mario Lemieux of Sewickley almost every year.

Kosack, 81, of Sewickley wore a Santa hat, and his nose was red from the cold as he spoke last week about his 43 years helping his “buddy” Al Mendicino of Aleppo sell Christmas trees.

Kosack, a retired painter, said he has liked “being out in the public” and “likes dealing with the people” over the years.

“There was a little boy the other day who looked at me in my hat and said to his mom, ‘Lookie, Mommy, it's Santy Claus!' So, I went, ‘Ho, ho ho!'” he said with a chuckle.

Frissell, 65, of Coraopolis — who has helped for nine years — said he enjoys the excited children who run around and “have a ball.” He gives a candy cane to each one.

Mendicino, 79, a retired general contractor, said the stand started in a lot along Route 65 in Leetsdale, where the carwash is now, and originally was the idea of his late brother, Patrick, who was Kosack's best friend.

Kosack said they wanted to do something different and decided to sell Christmas trees.

Mendicino continued the “three-weeks-a-year” business when his brother died about 10 years ago, because, he said, “it gets in your blood after all these years.”

But this might be his last year.

When they first started, Mendicino said, he was barely 20, and he, his brother and Kosack used to sell about 500 trees. When the artificial ones became popular and the economy got bad, sales declined.

Almost 40 years ago, they moved from the Leetsdale lot to the bigger Sewickley lot that Mendicino owns and where he rents out a home.

They have about 150 trees delivered from a Sarver Christmas tree farm each year, and most of the time, they sell them all at a price of $40 to $80. They will deliver for an additional cost.

In the past they have hadvisits from former Steelers wide receiver Lynn Swann and former Pittsburgh Pirates general manager David Littlefield.

Joanne Barron is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-324-1406

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