Tuesday, December 12, 2017
News Roundup

Nationwide Christmas tree shortage has experts warning: buy early

Johnny and Kathy Schultz perused the artificial tree displays at Lowe’s, eyeing the preadorned lights and glossy price tags with careful consideration.

Choosing a manufactured tree in the air conditioning of a big-box store was new for the couple. Since they were married 26 years ago, they’ve been Real Tree people, enamored with the smell.

But this year, they arrived at their usual lot to find a price increase from the previous year that made Johnny Schultz turn around and walk out. The couple had heard about a Christmas tree shortage on the news.

"Maybe it’s time to convert," he thought to himself.

The nationwide shortage, which the National Christmas Tree Association says is a delayed result of the Great Recession a decade ago, is driving up prices and cutting supplies, including for some Tampa Bay area vendors.

"Christmas tree sales were off 10 years ago," said Doug Hundley, spokesman for the association, which represents growers around the country. "We didn’t harvest as many trees, so they didn’t have the space to plant back young ones."

It takes a tree about seven to 10 years to grow, Hundley said, so "there’s no way to deal with that except patience." The problem is worsened by this year’s healthy economy, which is increasing demand.

Hundley said those who want a tree should be able to find them, but it will take more preparation than in the past. He recommended calling your usual vendor to check on the supply and buying a tree in the first or second week of December. Fraser firs, grown in North Carolina and typically what is sold in Florida, he said, can last for a month or more with the proper indoor care.

"We’re all for keeping people in real trees," he said, "and we honestly have all the confidence in the world that everybody that wants a real tree will be able to find one."

Around Tampa Bay, parking lots, church lawns and vacant fields have filled up with tree sellers since Thanksgiving or before. One was Gallagher’s Pumpkins & Christmas Trees in St. Petersburg, which has been in business off Fourth Street N for about 30 years.

Owner David Gallagher, while unloading some Fraser firs, said he’s paid about 15 percent more for trees this year, which he’s heard has run some smaller vendors out of business. He’s raising prices for consumers only 5 percent because he feels they shouldn’t have to pay for an error by the growers.

Like Hundley, he feels confident his customers will be able to find what they need as long as they buy early. He’s already seen more people come through the lot since he started selling trees Nov. 19.

"Because it’s all over the news that there’s a shortage," he said.

In Clearwater, Rich Salzman, the owner of Northstar Wisconsin Christmas Trees, led a couple around a maze of sweet-smelling trees Tuesday afternoon under a white tent off Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard.

He had two suppliers he had been working with for 20 years tell him they wouldn’t be able to provide him with his normal order. On top of the recession, a drought in recent years has stunted tree growth at farms in Western states, he said.

Northstar’s long history in the industry got the business to its target amount, but even then, the cost was up 10 to 15 percent. Like Gallagher, he’s passing only some of that on.

"We’re going to take a little bit of a cut, but we want to keep our customers," he said.

The couple he led around, Susan and Joe Siewruk of Palm Harbor, were new to his lot. The spot they frequented didn’t have the bountiful, round body they were looking for in a tree. They didn’t know about the shortage until Salzman mentioned it, but they could believe it.

"This is the first year" it’s been difficult, Susan Siewruk, 66, said.

The struggle even hit Boy Scouts and schools. Troop 262, which sells trees at Hope Lutheran Church in St. Petersburg, was shorted 30 trees from its order of 350, said committee chairman Bernard Gumz.

Lance McCullers, a Tampa resident whose family has run the Plant High School tree lot since 1966, said his grower has limited the amount of inventory he can get. He said he has about 300 to 400 fewer trees this year than last and has had to raise prices.

But it hasn’t trickled down everywhere.

Barbara Holfeltz, who works at Winterland Christmas Trees in Tampa, said prices went up a little this year, but there are still more than 800 trees for sale at her lot on Dale Mabry Highway at Columbus Drive.

"I don’t know why people are saying there’s a shortage," she said.

Tom Daly of Fancy Fir Christmas Trees in Tampa said that he’s heard some farmers have fewer trees and that demand has driven up prices, but his suppliers were not affected.

Whether more people will jump into the artificial tree market like the Schultzes remains to be seen. A good gauge may be Robert’s Christmas Wonderland in Clearwater, which has an entire room devoted to its artificial tree stock. But manager Josh Frank said business, while bustling on Tuesday, has been normal so far.

It was a disappointing transition for Kathy Schultz, who said she would miss the smell filling up her home.

"You just can’t replace a real tree," Schultz, 53, said.

But at least this year, an air freshener would have to do.

Contact Kathryn Varn at [email protected] or (727) 893-8913. Follow @kathrynvarn.

     
       
Comments
Space heater likely cause of early-morning home fire in Valrico

Space heater likely cause of early-morning home fire in Valrico

VALRICO — A space heater is believed to be the cause of a home fire in Valrico on Tuesday morning.It took firefighters about 20 minutes to control the fire in a mobile home on Pierce Christie Drive, according to Hillsborough County Fire Rescue.The ca...
Updated: 1 hour ago
French group to take over Westfield malls for $15.7 billion

French group to take over Westfield malls for $15.7 billion

PARIS — French real estate company Unibail-Rodamco has agreed to buy Australia-based shopping mall operator Westfield Corporation for $15.7 billion in cash and shares.The companies would together have 104 shopping centers in 13 countries that bring i...
Updated: 1 hour ago
The Daystarter: Find out Politifact’s 2017 Lie of the Year; Alabama voters go to the polls; arraignment for accused Seminole Heights killer; Yankees may hasten Rays’ dismantling

The Daystarter: Find out Politifact’s 2017 Lie of the Year; Alabama voters go to the polls; arraignment for accused Seminole Heights killer; Yankees may hasten Rays’ dismantling

Catching you up on overnight happenings, and what you need to know today.10News WTSPThe latest 7-day forecast• Low temperatures continue this morning but it’ll be pretty nice by the afternoon. It’ll be in the high 40s overnight and then start to rea...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Obama, Biden and Trump make late pushes in Alabama Senate race

Obama, Biden and Trump make late pushes in Alabama Senate race

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — National political leaders, a Hollywood actress and a retired basketball star made last-ditch efforts to woo voters in the Alabama Senate race Monday, as the candidates gave their final arguments in a pivotal special election that ...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Romano: Come to Madeira Beach for the sand, sun and scorn

Romano: Come to Madeira Beach for the sand, sun and scorn

Forgive the folks in Madeira Beach for not yet updating the FAQs portion of their website. They’ve been quite busy lately, which might explain why three of the five commissioners listed are no longer in office. Or maybe it’s just a nod t...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Forecast: Warm breezes across Tampa Bay ahead of fluctuating conditions

Forecast: Warm breezes across Tampa Bay ahead of fluctuating conditions

Chilly, windy, colder, sunny, warmer, rainy. 10News WTSP Feels-like temperatures around the Tampa Bay area This week’s inconsistent weather conditions will at least keep things interesting across the Tampa Bay area, even if it makes it d...
Updated: 2 hours ago

Tampa forum focuses on reforming Florida’s juvenile justice system

TAMPA — Changing the way Florida treats juvenile offenders was the focus of Monday night’s public forum on criminal justice reform."We send more children to adult prison than any other state," said Raymer Maguire IV, manager of the ACLU’s Florida Cam...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Jury selection in trial of Clearwater man charged with mother’s death begins today

Jury selection in trial of Clearwater man charged with mother’s death begins today

Jury selection is expected to begin Tuesday morning in the case of a 61-year-old man charged with beating his elderly mother to death.Daniel Edward Richards of Clearwater is charged with second-degree murder. He is representing himself during the tri...
Published: 12/12/17
Kathy Fountain, from anchor chair to therapist’s chair

Kathy Fountain, from anchor chair to therapist’s chair

A knowledgeable voice and familiar face beamed into Tampa Bay homes when Kathy Fountain delivered the 5 o’clock news and chatted with talk show guests on WTVT-Ch. 13. She created some news of her own as co-anchor of the first female team in the Tampa...
Published: 12/12/17
Medical field accounts for 7 of 10 highest-paying jobs

Medical field accounts for 7 of 10 highest-paying jobs

The nation’s highest-paying jobs don’t quite track with the fastest-growing jobs in Florida. According to a new study released today by California-based CareerCast, the highest-paying jobs are largely in the medical field and require post-graduate de...
Published: 12/12/17