McArdle's Holiday Farm in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, sold its last of this season's Christmas trees on December 13. "We've always been open until December 23 or 24, but we sold out of Christmas trees this past Sunday," says Karen McArdle, whose husband's parents started the farm 57 years ago.
"For us, it was a very strange year," she says.
Indeed, Christmas trees are one of a handful of products, like flour and Peloton bikes, that experienced an unexpected boost in sales because of the pandemic. Due to shelter-in place mandates and social distancing requirements, many Americans are spending to improve their living space. Money that might have gone toward patio furniture during the summer was redirected to holiday décor.
Thanks to that elevated demand, farms around the country, and even around the world, are experiencing a run on trees. McArdle sold 20% more trees this year than they did last year, while operating 10 days less than they did last year. Many are either in low supply, or like McArdle's, completely sold out.
This increase in demand is despite the spike in tree prices. The median price of a tree is expected to be $81 this year, according to reporting by Bloomberg. This is up from $76.87, the median price last year, according the National Christmas Tree Association (NCTA).
This year, sales in the U.S. have been "booming," says Doug Hundley, a seasonal spokesperson for the NCTA.
"We normally start seeing people want to put up trees the weekend of Thanksgiving, but this year there were people lined up where trees were available, even the week before," Hundley says. "There were people at the gates saying, 'Let us in, we're ready to start decorating.'"
There was a slight increase in sales before Thanksgiving, says Hundley, whose intel comes from the network of farmers the NCTA represents. On Thanksgiving and the weekend after, 2 out of 3 retailers say their sales were above average.
"We were concerned it might just be a front-loading of sales, but it kept going into December," he says.
It's not only U.S. sales that are high. Many cut-your-own tree farms in Canada reported being picked over or sold out by the first weekend of December, according to The New York Times. In Britain, Christmas tree sales might have grown as much as 31% compared to last year, Heather Parry, a spokeswoman for the British Christmas Tree Growers Association, told the Times.
The Richardson Farm, located in Spring Grove, Illinois, was also out of trees by December 13, says farm co-owner George Richardson. Typically, it stays open until the 19th or 20th.
The uptick in customers is in line with what farmers have seen for months, Hundley says. "It's something that has been attracting people since summer, with pumpkin patches, apple orchards. All the pick-your-own opportunities have been well patronized this year," he says. "We thought the Christmas tree buying would be part of that."
At Richardson Farm, fall attendance was up 30% "The weather was great, but we definitely think Covid played a part in that people were so happy that they had somewhere to go," Richardson says. "It was outdoors and spacious and they had fresh doughnuts to eat. We had many of those same factors in place for Christmastime."
Unlike Santa visits, holiday parties, or shopping in a crowded mall, visiting a Christmas tree farm poses a relatively low risk of contracting Covid, according to health experts.
"People are definitely happy, even with masks required," Richardson says. Christmas tree sales were up 10% over last year, he adds.
Richardson's family has been selling trees since 1986. Weekday sales, specifically, were higher than expected. "People want to avoid crowds," he says. "And part of it is because they are more available because kids are e-learning or parents are working form home and it was easier to come during the week."
Some farms may have also inherited customers whose local farms didn't open this season due to the effects of Covid-19. This is what happened at McArdle's Holiday Farm, McArdle suspects. For example, Carousel Tree Farm in Carousel Village, a 15-minute drive from McArdle's Holiday Farm, did not open this season, citing the "current pandemic" as its reason for closure.
"A bunch of customers at the register said, 'Thanks so much for being open. We understand it was a tough year to open because of Covid,'" she says.
In Redding, California, NYS Christmas Tree Farm decided not to open this year because of the pandemic, as did Blanks Evergreen Acres in Creve Coeur, Illinois. "So sad to be closed this year, even the trees have tears today. We will miss you all. We have the best customers ever! Happy Thanksgiving everyone!" said a Blanks Evergreen Acres Facebook post announcing its closure.
Farms that could stay open, like McArdle's and Richardson, hope they served as a silver lining to an otherwise stressful year, especially for new tree-buyers. "I feel like more people who don't normally get a new Christmas tree came out this year," McArdle says.
And if you haven't bought a tree yet, Hundley says, don't give up: "We're confident there are still trees out there. Just keep looking."
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