Jerrys trees

The toughest story I heard this year was the one about a large extended family from North Minneapolis that was displaced by the summer’s tornados and relocated to a furniture-less house in South Minneapolis. Last I heard about them, a 10-year-old girl was pregnant by her 14-year-old cousin.

That’s the long and short of it, anything more would be exploitive, so Merry Christmas Silent Night Inner Peace and only good news for modern man in 2012, starting with this report about what Jerry Nelson does every year around this time, and dedicated to the many poor souls who will have a much less fortunate Christmas than many of us this year.  

Nelson is the gregarious godfather figure at Jack’s, formerly Java Jack’s, on West 46th Street off Bryant Avenue South. He’s owned the place since 1999, taking over for original owner Jack Thompson, who opened Java Jack’s in 1992. Throughout its various incarnations and metamorphoses from coffee shop to live music venue to bustling wine-and-beer bistro over the years, Nelson’s mantra has been, “I’m a neighborhood guy.”

As such, the 51–year-old father of two can often be found behind the bar or on the floor, yakking about the latest live music scuttlebutt, foodie trend, local brew news or Minneapolis history tidbits. Dude likes to tell a story, in other words, and his (and his wife Pam’s) mere presence at all hours of the day and night harkens back to an old-school tenet of mom-and-pop pubs the world over: The owner is on the premises, rubbing elbows with staff and customers, and giving a face to the place.

One of the Jack’s traditions that survived the ownership change and various staff upheavals is Christmas tree sales. Thompson started a Christmas tree ranch in the back patio, and, due to popular demand, Nelson has kept it going, moving the trees to the sidewalk and side of the restaurant, which makes for an enchanting feast of smells and sights for much of December.

Best of all, and unprecedented around these parts, Santa Jerry delivers and helps set up the trees — free of charge.

“It’s a wonderful time of year,” he says, sitting in a corner booth at Jack’s last week. “I started delivering because someone came in and only had a Honda Civic, no trunk, nothing to tie it on, so I threw it in my truck and drove it over to ’em. That’s how it started. I deliver about 50 trees a year. Most of our customers are within a three-mile radius; I’ve delivered downtown, and I’ve delivered to Edina. People love it. It’s a good value.

“It’s the best. I get a chance to go into people’s homes and hear about their holiday plans. This is the time of year people gather as families — whether it’s good, bad or indifferent, that’s when you gather. I get to hear, ‘Oh, my son is coming from San Francisco, and he hasn’t been home for Christmas in six years,’ or ‘I’m cooking for 26 people this year, and I’ve never done it.’

“You know, it’s all joy. Total joy. And it revolves around family. This has been a challenging year for me, a challenging couple of years, but I always look forward to Christmas tree sales. I’ve experienced a lot of the downturn that most people have experienced, with my real estate [dealings] and restaurant, both, and what keeps you going is family. And friends. At the end of the day, it’s that simple.”

Jim Walsh lives and grew up in East Harriet.