Hiawatha Evergreens started out modestly enough 75 years ago as Northwest Evergreen, a local supplier of a limited range of fresh evergreen brush such as salal and huckleberry. Three-quarters of a century later, the firm is called Hiawatha Evergreens, its product line has expanded, it has added locations in British Columbia, Oregon and Washington, and it is a leading supplier of evergreen products worldwide.
Hiawatha Evergreens, operated by Hiawatha Corp., still has its headquarters nestled among the lush forests of Shelton, WA. It added popular decorative Christmas greens and designer products in the mid-1970s, followed later by another Hiawatha trademark item, dried products, including moss and pine cones. Today, Hiawatha has added a new line offering products in biodegradable containers with all-natural accents. It is MPS-ABC-certified; an eco-friendly label recognized worldwide.
Mark Thompson, general manager, who has been with the company for 22 years, credits its success to its location in the heart of the evergreen timber industry, the way it has grown and adapted to changing fashions in greenery and mass-market sales channels, its nimble dash through the once-a-year Christmas harvesting, processing and shipping marathon, and, not least, its owners’ quest for quality and “not just doing things right, but doing the right things.”
For example, Mr. Thompson told The Produce News, “All suppliers get their products in the same geographic areas. The trick that sets the quality firms apart is the ability to keep the Christmas greens fresh with cold-chain processing. Our owners have invested in cold-chain facilities — the largest in the industry at 74,000 square feet — and transport, so our products are kept at 36 to 38 degrees, last longer and keep our customers happy.”
The first owner was W.C.P. Allen, who built the Shelton plant and headquarters in 1938. L.G. Shelver acquired the company in 1947. Larry Stevens, who began working for Northwest Evergreens as a young man, partnered with Richard Pasalich in 1973 to purchase the company from Mr. Shelver. Mr. Stevens remains an owner today along with Mr. Pasalich, who is also company president.
The new owners later renamed it Hiawatha Evergreens, perhaps in homage to William Wadsworth Longfellow’s epic 1855 poem, “Song of Hiawatha,” about a mythical hero from Indian tribes of the western Great Lakes region.
Mr. Thompson does not see plastic greens replacing natural evergreens. Tradition is too strong, he contended. “Another tradition that never seems to change: we enter the crunch time of a once-a-year harvest, processing and shipping marathon in the two-month run-up to Christmas. In our 75th year as a company, we know the drill,” he observed.
“It’s like the mythical village in the musical ‘Brigadoon’ that surfaces once every 100 years, except that it happens every fall. At Hiawatha, we grow from 50 full-time employees to more than 800 workers, with temporary employees from October through December. We produce around 50,000 wreaths, garlands and centerpieces per day and do 60 percent of our business during these six high-performance weeks leading up to Christmas,” he noted.