Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Attention Kmart Shoppers: We Have a Talking Tree Here

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Attention Kmart Shoppers: We Have a Talking Tree Here

Article excerpt

NEPTUNE BEACH -- Kmart shopper Beverly Chandler didn't expect to hug a Christmas tree first thing when she walked into the Atlantic Boulevard store one recent Sunday.

But there she was, both arms wrapped tightly around one.

The tree talked her into it.

Actually, she was lured into the holiday hug by Bob Westmoreland, the voice and spirit behind The Talking Christmas Tree located just inside the store entrance.

"I am a very lonely tree," beckoned Westmoreland, a 70-year-old retired businessman. He spoke into a small microphone cupped in his hand, and his pleadings and greetings were delivered via a speaker nestled in the tree. He works from locations near enough to the tree to see people approach but far enough to remain hidden.

"They put me up here all by myself," he pleaded to Chandler. "Can you come over here and give me a hug?"

Chandler, dressed in full Jaguar regalia, smiled and hesitantly responded.

"If you hug me, I'll sing you a Christmas carol," Westmoreland continued.

A little girl who joined several smiling people gathered to watch Chandler interact with the tree was mesmerized.

When Chandler gave the tree a hug, she laughed shyly.

"I am still not sure who I was talking to," Chandler said. "I felt silly, but kids believe in Christmas and I did it to make it exciting for that little girl."

Another of Westmoreland's tactics is to ask patrons to make a bet on the next Jaguars game. Despite his best efforts he could not get Melvin Evans to bet. But he did get him to talk.

"This is something you don't see every day," Evans said with a smile. "It's fun, but like he [the tree] said, how am I going to tell people I made a bet with a talking Christmas tree?"

Some patrons looked at the tree then looked up and laughed. Others reacted with surprise, but then waved at the tree. Some waved at the ceiling, some were embarrassed. …

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