by The Charlotte Observer
Published November 26, 2011
With everything from gasoline to milk more expensive than a year ago, consumers could be in for some pine-scented relief: Retailers and producers say the price of Christmas trees should be roughly the same as last year.
Real trees, farmed and harvested by the millions each year, are a big business. The National Christmas Tree Association estimates Americans bought about 27 million evergreens last year, at a mean price of $36.12. The total amount spent on real trees was about $976 million.
"We're trying to keep prices the same," said Darrell Simpson, owner of Darrell Simpson Family Trees.
Christmas carols mixed with the sound of chainsaws at the lot on Morehead Street and Kings Road last week, as workers unloaded more than 300 trees cut early that morning in the mountains.
"I don't expect (prices) to rise, either," Simpson said.
A steady stream of customers browsed the lot around noon Wednesday, the second day the lot was open this year. Many trees were priced in the mid-$30s, with taller firs breaking the $100 mark.
"They seem to be buying early," said Simpson, who has helped run the 70-year-old lot since he was a boy.
He doesn't expect the retail price of trees to grow significantly until the economy is much better, perhaps in a few years.
Charlotte resident Ashley Hodges spent $65 on a thick fir that's north of 6 feet tall. "It seems to be about the same as last year," she said of tree prices, as workers fitted the trunk into a water stand.
Larger retailers also said they're holding the line on price.
"They are priced relatively the same as last year," said Colleen Maiura, a spokeswoman for Mooresville-based Lowe's Cos. Inc. Prices listed at Lowe's range from $19.97 for a 6-foot Douglas fir to $178 for a 12-foot Noble fir.
A spokesman for Home Depot Inc. said there is "no pricing change for live trees compared to last year." Both home improvement retailers also offer free shipping on trees, another boon for penny-pinching consumers.
North Carolina is the nation's second-largest producer of Christmas trees, behind Oregon, said North Carolina Christmas Tree Association Executive Director Jennifer Greene. The 1,500 or so growers in the state harvest about 5 million trees a year and have about 50 million planted and growing, she said.
Growers usually start marketing their trees in spring and early summer, Greene said. The weekend after Thanksgiving is usually when tree wholesalers wrap up their sales to retail lots.
Last year at this time, growers and wholesalers were dealing with more uncertainty, Greene said.
Buyers who usually bought large quantities were holding off, ordering smaller numbers of trees as economic uncertainty hung over the season.
But after Thanksgiving, orders picked up, and most of the remaining inventory ended up being sold.
This year, there was a lot of uncertainty, Greene said. But so far: "The phones are ringing," Greene said. "From the people I've talked with, the growers seem to be in good spirits."
The mood is more optimistic, she said, despite lingering fears about the economy.
As late as last week, wholesalers were still getting inquiries from people who wanted to buy trees and set up their own retail lots, she said.
Said Greene, "Last year, talking to people around this time, it wasn't as busy."