An Evergreen Story On A Slow News Day

by , Dec 12, 2013, 7:52 AM
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Think again if you thought there’s nothing new about the Christmas tree market since the artificial Christmas tree — now brightening up the aisles at Walmart in sizes to “fit any space” and colors from, well, red, to, for the more traditional, white — first made its appearance. 

Bloomberg’s Katarina Gustafsson and Matthew Boyle capture the faux atmosphere of the tree-culling season perfectly: “It’s snowing. The children laugh and prance through the woods. Dad fells the perfect fir and carries it home over his shoulder. The family sings carols and drinks cocoa as they happily decorate the tree,” they write. Alas:

“That yuletide dream, peddled by Hallmark cards and Lifetime movies, is as believable as flying reindeer.” 

They are not referring to the actual chopping of the fir and the subsequent trek through the slush, which, in one man’s experience at least, was always fraught with unforeseen perils. For one thing, like just about everything else short actual scuba diving lessons, the action is moving to the web.

Although the National Christmas Tree Association says no more than 3% of the $1 billion generated in sales in the U.S. is though the Internet, retailers such as Home Depot — which sells more trees than anybody else — are moving online. 

“Web sales represented about 1% of the 2.6 million firs and pines” sold by Home Depot in the debut of the program last year, according to Bob Sedlatschek, a manager for live goods at Home Depot, and it has expanded its offering for 2013 for consumers who “can’t get” to the store, he says.

Or who prefer to do a little comparison shopping. And who can blame them? 

An ABC News investigation discovered “prices vary widely from tree to tree across the United States and even within cities,” according to Coleen Curry. “Prices vary so much that we found differences of $40 to $70 within just a few blocks. In all, ABC News found that prices for 6- to 7-foot trees ranged from $8 (for cut your own) to $150 around the country.”

If you wait until about 9 p.m. on Dec. 24, you’ll discover those $150 trees going for about $25 with room to haggle over the bald spots, of course. Indeed, part of what made Xmas tree shopping so jolly —back when it was largely the province of shady characters in empty urban lots — was “the fine art of negotiating,” as Curry puts it. 

Thankfully, it seems, the sport still thrives in some areas.

“One Christmas tree stand purveyor in New York City, where prices varied from as much $100 within three blocks, hinted to ABC News that prices might be, well, flexible (at least we think that's what he meant): “You come by and we'll do the dance, don't worry about it,” he told Curry.

Meanwhile, ABC News’ Eliza Murphy reports on a tree retailer’s dream, Brandon Smith. Seems he “has 86 artificial trees jammed into his 1,400-square-foot home” in Greenwood, Ind.

“Christmas was a big German holiday for my family,” Smith, 31, told “My parents always put up a pretty good display and I just have grown and expanded on it over the years.”

Many of the trees are donated by “elderly people that don’t want to put up decorations anymore,” as it turns out. But, hey, somebody’s paying for the 52,000 lights it takes to keep them ablaze. 

Oh, about those artificial trees? Turns out they were not invented out of scrap shreds of tin foil by a marketing genius at Korvettes in 1957, as we imagined. They first appeared in Germany in the 1880s as a “response to the continued deforestation of the country,” according to a story on Made with goose feathers dyed green, they “made their way to the U.S. and were popular during the 1920s."

Then, in the 1930s, the Addis Brush Co., “which was known for making one of the first toilet bowl brushes,” Doug Hopeman reports on, “realized that there must be a better way to build an artificial Christmas tree.” Voila! The brush-bristle tree was born.

Which goes to prove that there’s always a niche to be found. Whoda thunk it?

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