'Tree' returns

Last year's protest march persuaded mall management

November 23, 2008|By Tyeesha Dixon | Tyeesha Dixon,tyeesha.dixon@baltsun.com

It's back.

The two-story poinsettia "tree," a centerpiece of the Mall in Columbia's holiday decor for decades, is standing tall once again this year, after a sabbatical last holiday season that sparked outrage in the community.

The 20-foot-tall tree is a Howard County tradition that comprises more than 600 red and white poinsettia plants. Last year, General Growth Properties, which manages the mall, decided to stop displaying the tree and donated the money it would have spent on the plants to a local charity.

GGP replaced the tree with its "Santastic" display, an interactive exhibit that featured children's activities and photo opportunities with Santa Claus. But after a couple of hundred residents protested in the mall last year - poinsettias in hand - the company brought the tradition back this season. The tree has been up since last Sunday, said Kristi Betz, a mall spokeswoman.

"We chose to bring the Poinsettia Tree back this year based on the support received during last year's holiday season," Jessica Bloom, senior marketing manager for the mall, said in a statement. "Our community is built on its values and traditions, and we are delighted that the Poinsettia Tree is such an integral part of the community fabric."

Community members say they are delighted that GGP helped revive a dose of holiday cheer.

"I'm so happy that GGP embraced the passion of the community and brought it back," said Claire Lea, a 40-year Columbia resident who helped organize last year's protest. "I walk the mall every morning, and [the tree] just keeps me moving."

Sandra Carbotti, who has also lived in Columbia for 40 years and protested last year, said the tree has become a part of her family's holiday experience.

"I'm grateful," she said. "I'm happy that General Growth was so responsive to the wants of the community."

Yesterday evening, holiday decorations adorned the mall as shoppers admired the tree, which sits in a water well on the mall's lower level.

"It was the first thing I noticed when I walked in the door," said Barbara Gilmartin, 52, a resident of Columbia for 24 years.

Gilmartin said she was "disappointed" when the tree didn't make an appearance last year.

"It's a staple here," she said. "It just didn't feel the same with it gone last year."

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