Recession, Tree Glut Take Holiday Cheer From Sellers

Christmas Greens Selling Cheaper Than Last Year

December 22, 1991|By Erik Nelson | Erik Nelson,Staff writer

Chances are, many of the county's Christmas tree lots will be nearlyempty today, but that doesn't mean it was a good year for tree sellers.

Last year many sellers found themselves with trees left over after Christmas, and they didn't want to get stuck again this year, several said.

Even so, the recession and an overall glut of trees has brought prices lower than in previous years.

"I was selling trees that wereprobably about $20 more last year," said Ed Mignini, who sells treesfor his family's business, Shore Furniture Inc. in Ellicott City.

"The economy's in such a downfall that people don't want to go out and spend $60 on a Christmas tree," said Mignini, who started with about 400 trees and was down to about 40 last Wednesday. All were pricedbetween $20 and $35.

"You don't get rich by any means, despite what some people think," said another seller, Paul Thompson, of Highland. Thompson runs two lots -- one on Route 216 at All Saints Road in North Laurel, and a larger one on Cedar Lane across from the Hickory Ridge village center construction site.

Thompson said his sales were about 25 percent behind last year.

"It's all a guessing game, a guessing game and a big gamble," Thompson said. "You buy all these trees and you hope you make some money."

The trees can come from just about anywhere, for a variety of prices.

At a lot on Route 108 in Columbia, Bob Dunworth of New Windsor in Carroll County spends all night keeping watch over a gourmet selection of trees.

The lot, which the Sykesville-based Payne Landscaping company rents from a veterinary hospital, carries white pine and Fraser fir from North Carolina, Scotch pine from Michigan, balsam fir from Quebec and Douglas fir from Pennsylvania.

Of the 300 trees Payne purchased this year, about 100 remained last Wednesday, with prices ranging from $25 for a white pine to $45 for a Fraser fir.

"A couple of years ago, they were$10 or $15 more," said Dun

worth of the Fraser firs, which he said are grown in abundance on mountainsides in North Carolina.

ChuckSharp, who has grown Christmas trees and sold them "choose 'n' cut" style since 1985, decided the year after he sold his first batch not to plant any more. Trees take six to eight years to mature.

Government agriculture reports, he said, showed that so many trees were being grown there would be a glut by this year's harvest.

By early last week, Sharp had already sold out of his last group of about 200 trees, and he's glad to be out of the business.

Sharp said he sold his trees for $20 apiece, just as he has every year since he started.

"You can buy a Christmas tree for the same price this year as you could 10 years ago. Could you buy an automobile for the same price? At $20 there's no profit in it."

Although he doesn't plan to get back into the business, he said cut-your-own trees in western Howard County are in a better position to survive the lower prices because so many residential neighborhoods are nearby.

Several tree sellers said higher temperatures earlier this month prompted many tree shoppersto opt for the outdoor adventure of cutting their own trees, a trendthat Sharp noticed, too.

"More and more people I think are cutting their own trees, so that forces the tree lots to lower their prices, to be more competitive with the choose 'n' cut lots, which in turn forces the wholesale tree grower in Michigan to lower his prices."

One seller, William Young of Randallstown, said he would be unlikelyto make a profit on any trees still left today.

"They cost me $18to $35, that's why you try to make your money early. That Fraser firwholesales for $33," he said, pointing to an 11-footer on his rentedyard next to a tavern near Columbia on Route 108. "By the end of theweek, it'll be $30."

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