Turning Christmas upside down

Some trend-setting retailers are standing a holiday tradition on its head -- namely, the Christmas tree.



Like the spire of a cathedral, the Christmas tree's point symbolically reaches toward heaven. Which makes this season's hottest novelty item, the artificial upside-down tree, even stranger.

Luckily it's a decorating trend that Baltimoreans, who may have more common sense than the rest of the country, have largely ignored.

"We put up one for kicks about two weeks ago," says Carrie Engel of Valley View Farms, pointing out that the garden center has 140 other beautifully decorated trees that are right side up.

The hoopla started when Hammacher Schlemmer sold out of its inverted trees, which cost $600, in October. The retailer had carried the pre-lit trees in its catalog before, but, says company spokesman Joe Jamrosz, "For some reason, this became their year for individual consumers."

It's worth pointing out that, according to Jamrosz, Hammacher's inventory was only several dozen trees.

The inverted trees at Target.com and Christmas Web sites like ChristmasTreeforMe.com went quickly, once the fad became national news. By November, there was nary an upside-down, pre-lit, artificial tree to be had.

We tracked down the manufacturer, Roman, Inc. in Addison, Ill. The company came up with the idea four or five years ago and had the trees made in China. They were developed for retailers with little floor space. (The upside-down trees can be hung from a hook on the ceiling or set up on the floor in a stand.)

Although Roman, Inc. doesn't sell to individuals, says marketing communications manager Judith Zapf, the company heard from plenty of them once the trees sold out in catalogs and on the Internet.

"Consumers shopping in stores wanted to duplicate the look in their homes," is how she explains the appeal. "They say they can display their personal ornament collections better because they hang away from the foliage. There's more room for presents underneath, and there's less furniture to move around."

Ken Knight, general manager of Stebbins Anderson in Towson, which has a large Christmas section, hadn't heard of the inverted tree craze, but he likes the idea. The store just doesn't have enough floor space for all its holiday decorations.

"I guess I wish I should have" had them, he says.

Not to worry. Retailers should stock plenty of the upside-down trees next year. And if you're the kind of person who plans ahead, you can place your order now for a 7-foot, pre-lit, inverted, artificial Christmas tree on ChristmasTreeforMe.com, marked down from $630 to $504, for delivery on Feb. 10, 2006.

Me, I'm enjoying my fragrant, live, right-side-up balsam.


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