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#The reasons behind 2020’s national Christmas tree shortage

#The reasons behind 2020’s national Christmas tree shortage

O Christmas tree, o Christmas tree, how pricey are thy branches!

Fewer tannenbaums are being offered for sale on the streets of New York City this holiday season and whether you are naughty or nice, it’s going to cost you more than in years past, vendors and experts say.

Reasons range from COVID-19 to the California wildfires.

Manhattan vendor SoHo Trees,  which last year hawked the city’s most expensive conifer — $6,500 for a single 20-foot Fraser fir — is sitting it out this season due to the pandemic.

“The safety of our customers and staff are of utmost importance to us. It is with a heavy heart to inform you that SoHo Trees will be taking a break from the 2020 holiday season,” reads a website message to “our loyal customers.”

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David Neville, who manages NYC Tree Lady, which sells “hand-picked” exotic trees (like Nordmann and Korean firs) for up to $1,000 at five locations in Manhattan — including Astor Place — acknowledged “there’s a lot less Christmas tree stands in the city this year.”

Neville believes COVID-19 and the California wildfires caused a “ripple effect” that contributed to a tree shortage. The nationwide supply could not satisfy the demand, which means higher prices across the board.

“There’s only a certain amount of five to six foot Christmas trees planted five years ago. A fire wipes those out. The next thing you know, the vendors are calling every farm in the country to try and fill their orders,” he said. “All of the vendors that are selling Christmas trees this year purchased them 20 to 30 percent higher than they did last year,” Neville said.

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David Neville manages NYC Tree Lady, which sells "hand-picked" exotic trees.
David Neville manages NYC Tree Lady, which sells “hand-picked” exotic trees.
Helayne Seidman

Neville suspects that Soho Trees and other vendors might also be taking 2020 off because a portion of their wealthy clientele were among those 300,000 who bolted the Big Apple over the last nine months.

“Selling Christmas trees in Manhattan is mayhem. Anything that can go wrong — does. It’s a very tough business,” he said.

Neville said there’s a market for the “smaller, cheaper” trees from North Carolina and Canada that he would sell in Chelsea, but they aren’t making it to the Big Apple.

“We would buy them in bulk, one thousand at a time, and we’ve had a few of those loads canceled without explanation,” he said.

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Hans Heep, 75, who lives in Greenwich Village, paid $75 for a “slim, but beautiful” 5-foot Fraser fir from Tree Riders NYC at St. Marks Church. Last year, a similar conifer cost him $28. Heep, who hails from Austria, said back home he’d pay $110 for his holiday tree, “but it was 10 feet tall!”

Erika Lee Sengstack, managing partner at Tree Riders NYC, theorized that “people who come down from Canada are less likely to sell trees this year if they are going to have a hard time getting back. It’s a hassle because of COVID.”

Canadian tree farmer Jimmy Downey, who is also a spokesman for the Canadian Christmas Tree Growers Association, explained “the market was very hard for the growers 10 years ago. … We went from 300 growers to 100 growers in Quebec. People were planting a lot less trees, so we have a lot less now.”

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Downey said with demand high and supply low, farmers might simply be diverting their trees to wherever they can get top price.

A 52-year-old West Village woman lamented her “go-to places” for Christmas trees weren’t in business this year and noticed that south of 14th Street, trees were more expensive than ever — with even “deli trees” going for over $100. However, she sniffed out a score on Sixth Avenue while walking her dog one early morning. “I found a stand where a guy working the graveyard shift gave me a deal. Sold me a $140 (6-foot Balsam) tree for $80 cash!”

Customer Hans Heep looks at a Fraser fir tree at Tree Riders NYC in the East Village.
Customer Hans Heep looks at a Fraser fir tree at Tree Riders NYC in the East Village.
Helayne Seidman

Said the satisfied customer: “We get a fresh tree every Christmas and this year it felt particularly important because there’s been so much change and upheaval.”

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Manhattan tree vendor Neville said although the year has “been bizarre,” the city is beginning to feel a lot like Christmas. “People are coming out and they need a break from 2020 and they want to forget politics and everything that’s going on and the tradition of a Christmas tree seems to be filling that,” he said.

“One person just bought a bunch of trees and said to give them to the poor.”

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