Most area Christmas tree lots and farms are optimistic about this year's sales

Monday, December 8, 2008
FRED LYNCH ~ flynch@semissourian.com
Alex Collier, left, a Boy Scout with Jackson Troop 311, helps Richard Jones of Jackson select a Christmas tree at the scouts' tree lot Saturday at the Wal-Mart in Jackson.

The temperature was a chilly 30 degrees on a windy Wednesday morning but the winterlike conditions didn't stop Janine Pfanstiel from visiting Bonnie Liabenow's Christmas tree lot at 19 S. Kingshighway in Cape Girardeau.

Since Pfanstiel and her husband, Barry, married 37 years ago, shopping for a Christmas tree has been a highlight of her holiday season. Even with a recession causing some to rethink their holiday shopping habits, Pfanstiel won't be cutting back on how much she'll spend on a tree.

"We usually splurge," Pfanstiel said. "For me, the shape and the smell of the tree are just part of what makes Christmas the holiday it is."

Liabenow has been selling Christmas trees at the stand for the last four years, though she's been shipping them from her Cadillac, Mich., farm since 1988. Liabenow said business has been "excellent" since she began selling trees since the day after Thanksgiving.

"The economic situation hasn't changed people's desire to buy the Christmas centerpiece," Liabenow said while sorting through trees. "People love the aroma, which I'd say is the top reason my new and repeat customers come back each year."

At Meier Horse Shoe Pines tree farm in Jackson, sales also have been steady. During its opening weekend almost 300 trees were sold at the farm at 2146 County Road 330. The allotment of 80 Fraser firs that were shipped in from Minnesota sold out during the first day of business Nov. 28. Steve and Teresa Meier expect their remaining supply of Scotch pines and white pines could be gone by mid-December.

Teresa Meier said the economy hasn't affected their Christmas tree business because it's an annual occurrence.

"It's a one-time-a-year kind of thing," she said. "From our farm a real tree is more economical than an articifial tree. Plus you don't have to store it and it's recyclable.

"The country as a whole is going green and that's a good thing for us," she said. "We encourage recycling and it's another way for [people] to do so."

Meier said the age of customers ranges from children to those who came to their tree farm when they first opened 20 years ago. She said her customers enjoy memories made through shopping for that perfect tree.

"It's a family tradition to come to the farm," Meier said. "Everybody has those things they like to do at Christmas and we're a part of a lot of people's Christmas."

For its part, the Jackson Optimist Club reported brisk sales at its two tree lots during the opening weekend, Nov. 28 to 30. Organizer Billy Joe Thompson Jr. expects the club's allotment of 265 balsam firs shipped from Nova Scotia to be sold in the next few weeks at the two locations in Jackson -- in the parking lots of the Wal-Mart Supercenter, 3051 E. Jackson Blvd., and American Ice Cream, 221 S. Hope St. The Optimist Club has been selling trees in Jackson for more than 60 years, Thompson said.

During the evening, 85 members of Boy Scout Troop 311 alternate shifts. Thompson said it's a win-win situation for both organizations.

"This keeps our name out in front of the public and helps the scouts earn credit that can go toward equipment, campouts or other expenses," Thompson said. "We're here to serve the community. That's what the Optimist Club is all about."

When the scouts aren't at the stand, customers still have an option of purchasing trees through an honor system. Thompson said this accounts for a large percentage of sales.

"People just leave their money in an envelope we have and can pick up their tree," Thompson said. "I realize we have a few who may not leave money for the tree, but for the most part people have been pretty honest. It's worked out well for the public."

While business was strong at most area tree lots and farms, sales were down slightly at the 10-acre Saline Valley Tree Farm near Perryville, Mo. But owner Marty Buchheit said business could increase in the coming weeks at the farm, at 24870 Saline Valley Drive in St. Mary, Mo.

"I see people from all ages coming here," Buchheit said. "People enjoy coming here and buying a fresh tree that they can't get at a commercial lot."

In his 16th year of business, Buchheit admits the days of his Christmas tree farm may be numbered.

"I'm getting to the point where I'll have to get out of it," Buchheit said. "When you get to be my age, you can't work as much as you do. If I can't eventually hand it off to anyone, I'll probably close."

Rick Dungey, spokesman of the Chesterfield, Mo.-based National Christmas Tree Association, is optimistic sales may surpass the 31.3 million trees sold in 2007, even with an economy in a recession. According to the organization's survey, 23 percent of customers last year bought trees from a chain store such as Home Depot Inc., the nation's largest retailer of fresh-cut treeswhile 21 percent purchased them from a farm.

"It's a tradition for people, especially those with kids," Dungey said. "When people go somewhere and pick out their own tree it creates memories that last a lifetime.

"Parents remember when they were children and how special it was for them," he said. "They want to continue that and pass it down to their kids so that tradition can be continued for generations to come."

bblackwell@semissourian.com

388-3628

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