Christmas Tree Questions? Ask the Mayor of Rockefeller Center.
For two decades, Correll Jones has been the man to ask about New York’s most famous tree — and where to find the public bathrooms.,
For two decades, Correll Jones has been a fixture as the main greeter at a bustling plaza in Midtown Manhattan. His company-issued business card reflects his status: “C.J. mayor of Rockefeller Center.”
And each winter, as countless visitors arrive to see the Christmas tree outside 30 Rockefeller Plaza, Mr. Jones essentially becomes the tree concierge.
In New York City, where doormen traditionally serve as everything from security guard to confidant, Mr. Jones, 59, holds one of the profession’s most prestigious posts. From now until the tree comes down in early January, he will dispense all of the particulars about it to those who ask: that this year’s version is a 79-foot-tall Norway spruce from Maryland decorated with 50,000 lights and a crystal-laden star that weighs nearly a half-ton.
If they inquire further, he may tell them the tree is almost 90 years old and was cut down “at the end of its life.”
“We would never kill a tree in its prime,” Mr. Jones told a visitor on Wednesday as he slalomed between workers setting up equipment for the annual tree-lighting ceremony.
In addition to tree questions, he fields a nonstop litany of other requests: directions to stores, restaurant recommendations, and, most urgently, where is the bathroom? (He directs those who ask to the restrooms in 30 Rock’s underground concourse.)
Mr. Jones works the plaza the way a seasoned party host works a room, zipping around energetically.
“Is everybody OK?” he asked visitors on Wednesday. “Everybody good? Ladies, you all right?”
Mr. Jones’s nickname, C.J., is emblazoned on the name tag pinned to his sharp gray suit, which matches his hat and silver tie. And his caricature — “Mayor of the Rock” — has graced Rockefeller Center holiday maps alongside illustrations of institutions like NBC, the Rainbow Room, and the Rockettes.
The job has allowed him to meet presidents and to appear in front of television cameras, from spots on “Today” to doing schtick with Dan Aykroyd and dancing with Jimmy Fallon on “The Tonight Show.”
“He’s more than a doorman or even a greeter,” said Pedro Francisco, a concierge in the 30 Rock lobby. “His personality is on display here — he’s part of the fabric of Rockefeller Center.”
Mr. Francisco said that Mr. Jones knows most of the prominent figures who work at the NBC studios, including shows like “30 Rock” and “Saturday Night Live.”
“He knows all the movers and shakers working here, the celebrities, the titans of business, the ‘Today’ show folks,” Mr. Francisco said. “They all stop to bounce things off him because of his personality and because he has a finger on the pulse on what’s happening.”
The brushes with fame are great, Mr. Jones said, but so is collecting clippings from the tree to hand out to the crowd every winter. And no matter who he meets on the job, his companion, Evelyn, keeps him humble.
“The job never gets to my head,” he said, “because when I get home, she says, ‘You may be the mayor of Rockefeller Center, but when you come home, you’re just C.J.'”
Mr. Jones, a lifelong Brooklyn resident who now lives in Flatbush, said he grew up in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood and aspired to go into politics but ultimately shied away because “it’s a dirty business.”
“That never worked out,” he said. “But in a way it did, 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 worked briefly at a commercial printing company.
“I couldn’t take the ink under my fingernails,” he said, “so I quit.”
He took a security guard job at the Peninsula Hotel before switching to the coat check room at the University Club of New York and then moving up to doorman.
After two decades at the club, one of its members, Rob Speyer, the chief executive of the Tishman Speyer real estate firm, which owns Rockefeller Center, asked Mr. Jones whether he would like to work there. Mr. Jones initially declined.
“I turned down the job because I didn’t want to be cooped up inside behind a desk,” he said. “But then when they told me I’d be outside greeting people, I knew I had to take it.”
“The hospitality business fit better with my personality,” he said.
An avid sports fan, Mr. Jones said he pays his dues as a supporter of the oft-struggling Mets and Jets. Once a Knicks fan, he has switched his allegiance to the Brooklyn Nets because their home, Barclays Center, is near his own.
Mr. Jones has a daughter and two granddaughters, one 11 and the other seven months. He said the girls occupied much of his free time.
“My weekends are spent doing what the Mrs. needs me to do and spending quality time with my grandkids,” he said.
Mr. Jones called this holiday season especially sweet, after the coronavirus pandemic dampened last year’s turnout and forced the tree-lighting ceremony to be closed to the public.
“There was a time last year during the pandemic when it was just me and the pigeons out here — it was a ghost town,” he said. “But the tourists are coming back. A lot of New Yorkers complain about the crowds, but they don’t realize how much this city depends on tourists. We take them for granted. We’ve all got to share this big city.”
Bopping nonstop from one group of visitors to the next, he was difficult to keep up with.
“Sorry,” he said, “but being mayor, you got to be visible.”
He told a woman asking about the Lego Store that it had moved from the plaza to Fifth Avenue and 51st Street.
“Where’s the giant menorah?” one woman asked through her face mask. Mr. Jones directed her up Fifth Avenue toward 59th Street.
When Maribel Abreu, who was visiting from North Carolina, asked where her family might watch the tree-lighting, Mr. Jones advised them to get a few hours rest and head for the plaza’s 50th Street entrance.
Then he playfully blocked the stream of passers-by so she could snap a family photo. Ms. Abreu pulled him into the picture as well.
Neil Lawner, a photographer from Manhattan, stopped to say hello.
“He’s a great spokesman for this place because he’s so great with people,” Mr. Lawner said of Mr. Jones.
Nicole Nieves and her grandmother, Abby Nieves, were visiting from Montclair, N.J. They asked Mr. Jones for the free postcards Rockefeller Center offers each year.
He trotted into the 30 Rock lobby to replenish his supply and soon returned with their cards. He said he typically handed out up to 40,000 every holiday season.
“I got the best job in the world,” he said. “I’ve met people from more than 100 countries. A lot of them come back years later and thank me for sending them to some restaurant or store. That makes me feel good.”