NEEDHAM, Mass. New England’s fall foliage is a magnet for tourists at this time of the year, when busloads of “leaf peepers” from around the country make their way here to view the spectacular colors that cooler temperatures produce in the region’s deciduous trees. “It is just so thrilling to me,” says Maeve Glincher, a retired bookkeeper from Keokuk, Iowa, who makes the annual trip here with a church group. “My husband will be glued to his Barca-Lounger until the Super Bowl’s over, and as far as I’m concerned the stronger the glue the better.”
But for natives of the six-state region falling leaves are a nuisance, calling forth noisy leaf blowers, blocking gutters, and producing manual labor for children who are trained from birth to be high achievers, “not lawn guys,” says Evan Smirsky, whose dad raked leaves when he was a boy. “It’s good for kids to get out in the fresh air,” says Todd Smirsky, his father, as he turns on a post-season baseball game and settles back into his Barca-Lounger with a beer.
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But Evan Smirsky inherited his father’s vulture capitalist DNA, and turned a moment’s inspiration into a thriving business that now employs four of his classmates: “Leaves-by-Mail,” which promises overnight deliveries of brightly-colored leaves to those who would otherwise be forced to travel long distances by bus “just to see a bunch of leaves out the window, then turn around and go home,” Smirsky says. “It’s an environmentally-friendly way to experience fall foliage, as if I cared about the environment.”
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Customers can order a single box of leaves or sign up for “Leaf-of-the-Week,” a series of shipments that includes ten different leaves that arrive beginning in October and ending when snow is expected to cover the ground mid-December. “It’s modeled on the Harry & David fruit plan,” says Evan’s mother, referring to the mail-order business that packages boxes of Florida citrus fruits as gifts. “It’s the perfect present for someone you don’t care enough about to shop for.”
Young Smirsky won’t disclose his profit margins, but he says he only hires American workers from among his classmates at the Pumpsie Green Elementary School here. “They’re cheaper than illegal immigrants,” he says with a calculating look in his eye. “You can buy most of them off with a Pokémon card and McDonalds McFlurry.”