Christmas tree shoppers saying, `Super-size me'

Piney leviathans are emerging as must-have items for holidays

December 21, 2005|By RONA MARECH | RONA MARECH,SUN REPORTER

For 10 years, Karen Myers has been buying a 15-foot Christmas tree and erecting it, ablaze with white lights, in the window of her home on Deep Creek Lake in Western Maryland. She brings the jumbo tree home in a pickup truck, places it in an extra-large stand, pulls out a stepladder and with her husband - who takes a calculated risk when he stretches to add the tree-topper - fills up all that lovely, green real estate with an array of ornaments, extra-large gold balls, ribbons and streamers.

Americans with a taste for the titanic, behold the next big big thing: Christmas trees.

As homes have ballooned in size, so has the market for colossal trees. Those who decide that a standard 7-footer in a great hall or a multistory foyer no longer provides adequate holiday cheer are selecting real or artificial trees that are wider than Santa Claus and reach an impressive 10, 15 or 20 feet.

"Once you're on that track, you've got to have a big tree to go in your big house," said Marshall Stacy, who runs Pinetum Farms in Garrett County, which specializes in large Christmas trees, sold locally in front of the Howard County branch of the YMCA in Ellicott City. Without a big tree, Stacy said, "people are going to laugh at you. They're going to walk in and say, `What the hell happened?'"

"An awful lot of people come onto the lot and say, `Show me your biggest tree.' That's what they want," Stacy said. If they're not satisfied - after all, tall trees can look less than monumental when they are outside under a yawning sky and the pines are curled from the cold - customers will keep pushing, asking, "Have you got a bigger one in the pile?"

Sometimes, big-tree lovers pay cash to avoid explaining to a spouse how much they spent, Stacy said, and occasionally, in their enthusiasm (or defiance), they will buy trees that can't possibly fit in the rooms they describe.

Old friends

Joseph Coates, the owner of Groundshog Lawn and Landscape, who runs the tree lot at the YMCA, gave a brief tour of his miniature forest yesterday, touching trees that towered over him as if they were old friends. He estimated that about 25 percent of the business this year was in trees more than 10 feet tall. Many of those customers bought a second tree. "One for the great room - I think that's what they call them, I don't have one, I wouldn't know - and one for the den," he said.

His largest tree this year was a 15-foot Fraser fir that he sold for $385.

Sellers tend to exercise caution when ordering the large trees because they don't want to be stuck, heartbroken, on Dec. 26 with huge, gorgeous trees that took 15 years to grow but are destined only for the wood chipper. For that reason, those buying large trees often order in advance or come early in the season.

Others ditch the real firs altogether and choose what's known in the business as "lifelike" trees. Because large trees can weigh a couple of hundred pounds and are unwieldy, to say the least - Stacy recently pulled a ligament in his biceps trying to lug one around - a growing number of people go with artificial trees, which can be equally gargantuan but are lighter and less of a hassle.

Trees more than 10 feet tall constitute about 25 percent of artificial tree sales, compared with about 5 percent a few years ago, said Ken Murphy, a buyer and manager at Watson's Garden Center in Lutherville.

Such trees can cost more than $1,000. A 15-foot, prelighted artificial tree at Demory's Christmas Memories in Hagerstown can cost as much as $1,600. People special-order the biggest trees as early as August and have them shipped - in two or three boxes - directly to their homes, said Steve Demory, the store owner.

He has noticed that, increasingly, customers are buying oversize decorations for their oversize trees. He sells popular football-size ornaments and 18-inch tree-toppers guaranteed to sparkle - even from on high.

A whopper to go

It might be good for the tree and Christmas business, but some are unimpressed by America's making a fetish of leviathans, including whopper Christmas trees.

"Sierra Club would love for all good people of good cheer to follow the lead of McDonald's and discontinue their `super-sizing' ways. Go smaller, not larger. Conserve rather than spend. Collect friends, not things," said Betsy Johnson, the Maryland chairwoman of the environmental organization.

For Myers, however, the drive for size is simply good will and old-fashioned holiday spirit. Her lakeside home - and her beckoning tree - are visible from a nearby bridge.

"I've even gotten notes from people saying how good they feel when they cross the lake and see the lights of the Christmas tree there," she said. "It's our way of wishing all of them a good Christmas and a good holiday season."

rona.marech@baltsun.com

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