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Published: Friday, 12/4/2009

Tough times fail to put Christmas tree in shade

BY JON CHAVEZ
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
Pat Murtagh measures a tree for Jackie Sweeney and daughter Anika, 8, of Sylvania at the Whitehouse Christmas Tree Farm, where smaller and moderate-sized trees are selling well. Pat Murtagh measures a tree for Jackie Sweeney and daughter Anika, 8, of Sylvania at the Whitehouse Christmas Tree Farm, where smaller and moderate-sized trees are selling well.
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When it comes to celebrating Christmas, apparently size does not matter.

Operators of area Christmas tree lots and cut-your-own tree farms say that sales this year have begun strong, an indication that people aren't willing to go without a Christmas tree this holiday season.

But demand is up for moderate or smaller trees - which look just as nice as a more stout tree but are less expensive.

"People are asking for trees that are a little smaller. We try to tell them that bigger is not better," said Duke Wheeler, owner of Whitehouse Christmas Tree Farm, a cut-your-own tree site in Whitehouse. "A smaller tree is easier to take down and a little easier on the pocketbook."

About 700 families visited the Whitehouse Christmas Tree Farm last weekend, the same as a year ago. About 700 families visited the Whitehouse Christmas Tree Farm last weekend, the same as a year ago.
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The biggest demand is for Douglas or Fraser fir trees in the 7-foot and 8-foot range. Cost: about $40 to $50.

His farm had about 700 families show up last weekend, the first of the season, to buy precut trees or cut their own. That is about the same as last year.

He sold only a few trees of 20 feet or more, less than usual, he said.

Marsha Gray, executive director of the Michigan Christmas Tree Association, which represents growers in the state of Michigan, said the smaller-tree trend appears to be throughout the Midwest.


Josh Ward inserts a tree into the bailing machine at the Whitehouse farm. The biggest demand is for Douglas and Fraser firs. Josh Ward inserts a tree into the bailing machine at the Whitehouse farm. The biggest demand is for Douglas and Fraser firs.
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Sales reports last week were uneven, she said, with some areas in the Midwest reporting strong sales, others lagging sales.

Tree lots report prices are the same as last year.

"I don't think we went up at all," said Dick Raden, who runs the June Helsel tree lot that occupies the Netty's drive-in site at Monroe Street and Sylvania Avenue. A six-foot Douglas fir, the most popular tree, is about $35 to $40, he added.

Last weekend, he said, was good, maybe even better than last year. If the weather stays good, this weekend could be the biggest of the season, he added.

Reeves Box, operator of the Charlie Helsel lot on Monroe Street near Whiteford Road, said growers in Michigan didn't know what to expect in Toledo this year, given the economy and strong ties to the auto industry. June and Charlie Helsel are cousins who own Christmas tree farms in northern Michigan.

"We have been selling more moderately priced trees, and I'm curious to know why," Mr. Box said. "I think people are concerned but they are going to celebrate Christmas. Period." Last weekend, he said, was "outstanding" in sales. But this weekend could go either way depending on the weather, he added.

Mr. Wheeler said his biggest weekend at Whitehouse is usually the second week of December, but this weekend could eclipse that. Good weather is predicted, and tomorrow his business is taking part in a special Trees for the Troops program, in which consumers can buy trees that will be distributed to military families nationwide.

Contact Jon Chavez at:

jchavez@theblade.com

or 419-724-6128.



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