Questions about the Christmas tree? Ask the mayor of Rockefeller Center.
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For two decades, Correll Jones has been the main host of a bustling Midtown Manhattan plaza. His company-issued business card reflects his status: “CJ Mayor of Rockefeller Center.”
And each winter, as countless visitors arrive to view the Christmas tree outside 30 Rockefeller Plaza, Mr. Jones essentially becomes the tree caretaker.
In New York City, where doormen have traditionally served everything from security guard to confidant, Jones, 59, holds one of the profession’s most prestigious positions. From now until the tree falls in early January, he will provide all the details to those who ask: that this year’s version is a 79ft tall Norway spruce tree from Maryland decorated with 50,000 lights. and a star charged with crystal that weighs nearly half a ton.
If they find out more, he might tell them that the tree is almost 90 years old and was cut down “at the end of its life.”
“We would never kill a tree at its peak,” Jones told a visitor Wednesday as he slalomed between workers preparing equipment for the annual tree lighting ceremony.
In addition to questions about trees, it responds to an endless litany of other requests: directions to stores, restaurant recommendations and, most urgently, where’s the bathroom? (He directs those who ask for him to the restroom in the underground lobby of 30 Rock.)
Mr. Jones works in the plaza as a seasoned party host works in a room, moving energetically.
“Are everyone okay?” He asked visitors on Wednesday. ” Everyone is well ? Ladies, are you okay?
Mr. Jones’ nickname CJ is engraved on the name tag pinned to his pointy gray suit, which matches his hat and silver tie. And his cartoon – “Mayor of the Rock” – has graced Rockefeller Center vacation cards alongside illustrations from institutions like NBC, the Rainbow Room and the Rockettes.
The job has seen him meet presidents and appear in front of television cameras, from spots on “Today” to schtick with Dan Aykroyd and dance with Jimmy Fallon on “The Tonight Show”.
âHe’s more than a doorman or even a host,â said Pedro Francisco, concierge at 30 Rock Lobby. “His personality is on display here – he’s part of the fabric of Rockefeller Center.”
Mr. Francisco said Mr. Jones knows many of the prominent people who work at NBC studios, including shows like “30 Rock” and “Saturday Night Live”.
“He knows all the movers and shakers that work here, the celebrities, the business titans, the ‘modern’ show people,” Francisco said. “They all stop to bounce on him because of his personality and because he’s got his finger on the pulse of what’s going on.”
Famous brushes are great, Mr Jones said, but so is collecting tree clippings to hand out to crowds every winter. And no matter who he meets at work, his mate, Evelyn, keeps him humble.
âWork never gets to my head,â he said, âbecause when I come home she says, ‘You might be the mayor of Rockefeller Center, but when you come home home, you are only CJ Â»Â»
Mr Jones, a longtime Brooklyn resident who now lives in Flatbush, said he grew up in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood and aspired to be in politics, but ultimately fled because that “this is a dirty deal”.
âIt never worked,â he said. “But in a way it is, because now I’m the mayor of this place.”
Mr. Jones graduated from the New York School of Printing in Manhattan (now known as the High School of Graphic Communication Arts) and briefly worked in a commercial printing house.
âI couldn’t take the ink from under my fingernails,â he said, âso I quit. “
He worked as a security guard at the Peninsula Hotel before moving to the locker room at the University Club of New York and then becoming a doorman.
After two decades at the club, one of its members, Rob Speyer, managing director of real estate firm Tishman Speyer, owner of Rockefeller Center, asked Mr Jones if he would like to work there. Mr. Jones initially refused.
âI turned down the job because I didn’t want to be locked behind a desk,â he said. “But when they told me I would be out to greet people, I knew I had to take it.”
âThe hospitality industry fits my personality better,â he said.
A sports enthusiast, Mr Jones has said he pays his dues as a supporter of the often struggling Mets and Jets. Once a Knicks fan, he changed his allegiance to the Brooklyn Nets because their home, the Barclays Center, is close to his.
Mr. Jones has a daughter and two granddaughters, one 11 months old and the other seven months old. He said girls take up a lot of his free time.
âMy weekends are spent doing what Mrs. needs from me and spending quality time with my grandchildren,â he said.
Mr Jones called the holiday season particularly balmy, after the coronavirus pandemic dragged down attendance last year and forced the tree-lighting ceremony to be closed to the public.
âThere was a time last year during the pandemic when it was just me and the pigeons here – it was a ghost town,â he said. âBut tourists are coming back. Many New Yorkers complain about the crowds, but they don’t realize how reliant this city is on tourists. We take them for granted. We all have to share this great city.
Passing constantly from one group of visitors to another, it was difficult to follow.
âSorry,â he said, âbut as mayor you have to be visible.â
He told a woman who asked about the Lego store that he had moved from the plaza to Fifth Avenue and 51st Street.
“Where’s the giant menorah?” A woman asked through her face mask. Mr. Jones directed her down Fifth Avenue toward 59th Street.
When Maribel Abreu, who was from North Carolina, asked where her family could watch the tree lighting, Mr Jones advised them to rest for a few hours and head to the 50th Street entrance to the square. .
Then he playfully blocked the flow of passersby so she could take a family photo. Ms. Abreu also drew him in the picture.
Neil Lawner, a photographer from Manhattan, stopped to say hello.
“He’s a great spokesperson for this place because he’s so good with people,” Lawner said of Mr. Jones.
Nicole Nieves and her grandmother, Abby Nieves, were visiting from Montclair, NJ. They asked Mr. Jones for the free postcards that Rockefeller Center gives out each year.
He trotted into the lobby of 30 Rock to replenish his stock and quickly returned with their cards. He said he typically gave out up to 40,000 each vacation period.
âI had the best job in the world,â he said. âI have met people from over 100 countries. Many of them come back years later and thank me for sending them to a restaurant or store. It makes me feel good.