Christmas tree sales holding steady

Posted Dec. 18, 2008, at 10:07 p.m.

Despite recent weather that has brought down many trees and limbs with ice and winds, Jim Corliss is hoping a few more trees come down at his Newburgh farm this weekend.

In Corliss’ line of work, cutting trees down is usually a good thing. The owner and operator of Piper Mountain Christmas Trees, Corliss said recently his tree sales this year are close to, if not on par with, his sales from 2007.

The poor economy may have affected some retail operations such as his gift shop, he said, but it has not resulted in fewer trees being sold at his business.

“I don’t think it’s been a factor at all for tree sales,” said Corliss, a board member with the Maine Christmas Tree Association and a former president of the National Christmas Tree Association. “Our tree sales have held up. We’re very satisfied with the amount of trees we’ve sold.”

He said he has benefited from good weather on the weekends, when most buyers make their purchases.

Corliss estimated that sales at his gift shop, where he sells tree ornaments, stuffed Santas and similar seasonal items, are down 30 percent from last year. People may be buying less to put under the tree, he said, but they’re still buying the tree.

“There’s a lot of tradition associated with that, and people don’t want to give that up,” he said.

Corliss said he also does business with a real estate company in Florida that tends to buy around 15 wreaths from him every year, presumably for customers.

“This year they bought two wreaths,” Corliss said.

He guesses the poor economy, especially the anemic home market, is the reason he’s sending fewer wreaths to Florida this Christmas.

Calvin Luther, who grows trees in Bucksport at Penobscot Evergeens Farm, said Thursday his sales this December have been consistent with the past few years. He echoed Corliss’ comments about tradition trumping economic trepidation for most people.

“Everyone seems to be in fairly good spirits [when they come to buy a tree],” Luther said. “It’s a tradition, and I think those traditions are still solid.”

Luther said weather was more a concern last year than it has been this season. People mostly cut their own trees at Luther’s tree farm, he said, but the farm also cuts trees that it sets out on display to make the proc-ess easier for some. People often choose pre-cut trees when the weather is bad because they want to get back in their cars and go home, he said.

Last year, the ratio between sales of trees cut by customers and those pre-cut by farm workers was about 50-50, according to Luther. The better weather this year has resulted in about two-thirds of his customers cutting their own trees, he said.

“The weather’s been a lot better,” Luther said. “We sell about 500 trees a year.”

According to Corliss, there are only four weekends between Thanksgiving and Christmas this year, while last year there were five. For this reason alone, he expected to sell fewer trees this year.

With Christmas less than a week away, Corliss said he already has sold the majority of trees he will sell this year. The customers he does get this weekend most likely will be families who promised their college-age children not to get trees until they come home for the holidays, he said.

“When a 20-year-old puts that much value into going and buying a Christmas tree, it’s very satisfying,” he said. “We’ll get a dozen families like that [this weekend].”

Corliss said that between selling trees and his own Christmas shopping, he won’t know for sure how he did until after the end of the year, when he’ll have time to sit down and go over his sales slips.

Joane Bond, another Maine Christmas Tree Association official and co-owner of Bond Mountain Acres, said Tuesday she has been concerned about the effects of the weather in the southern Maine farm where she grows and sells trees. Last week’s ice storm hit southern Maine harder than northern or eastern Maine, causing widespread power outages.

Bond said trees on her farm were unharmed by the heavy ice, however, and her tree sales seem to be holding steady.

“[The trees] were bent right down but by golly they popped back,” she said. “Between the economy and the ice storm, we’re doing OK.”

The power outages may have helped tree sales, she said, by giving people an excuse to get out of their dark homes and to do something fun. Then again, maybe some people have waited on buying trees because their lights at home don’t work, she guessed. Either way, she hopes most everyone has their power back by this weekend — and that she sells at least a few more trees.

According to the National Christmas Tree Association, between 25 million and 30 million fir trees are cut and sold as Christmas trees nationwide each year. There are nearly half a billion Christmas trees growing on tree farms in the country. For every Christmas tree harvested for use, up to three seedlings are planted in its stead the next spring, the NCTA indicates on its Web site.

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