There appears to be a run on Christmas trees. Over the past two weeks, the media have started to pick up on the apparent frenzy, but putting numbers to these observations is a little tricky because the industry is almost charmingly low on data. There are no flashy start-ups peddling Fraser firs via app—a Christmas miracle! Google Trends, which tracks what people search for over time, shows a higher and more sustained interest in real Christmas trees this year than any before it, but the large majority of the 25 million fresh trees bought annually are sold through small, local businesses such as Big John’s, making any understanding of how a season is going nationwide a mostly anecdotal one. Anecdotally, though, business is booming, even in an economically scarred country.
Read: Christmas dies hard
During the pandemic, Americans have emptied the shelves of all kinds of products. Flour, jigsaw puzzles, dumbbells, inflatable pools, ring lights, peel-and-stick tile, antacids—all have seen their inventories depleted as people think of new things that might help them feel better and pass the time. Now, as coronavirus cases tick up, federal aid bottoms out, and the country sorts out the aftermath of a contentious election, far more people than usual seem to have looked around their home and decided that, well, maybe a little bit of holiday cheer would feel nice, and it would also be something new to do. If they can’t have all the grander things they might need right now, then what they want is to decorate the hell out of a Christmas tree.
A rush on Christmas trees wasn’t a foregone conclusion. As with many of the pandemic’s hot commodities, it wasn’t clear what people might find compelling about this holiday season, and what they might dismiss as too much work, until they were already peppering tree merchants with preorders.
“We were just preparing for the worst, thinking we might not sell any trees, or we might get shut down” in tightening pandemic restrictions, Julian Tempesta, who runs Vermont Christmas Trees, told me. The company operates two tree lots in wealthy Brooklyn neighborhoods, where many residents have second homes. Without an opportunity to throw the lavish Christmas parties that typically motivate such buyers to get their trees early, Tempesta worried that this year might be a bust. “We were shooting for, like, 75 percent of our typical sales,” Tempesta said. If some of those residents did abscond to country homes, those who stayed in town have more than made up the difference; both his lots have sold out multiple times.
All season, that slowdown never came. In Atlanta, Livaditis’s customers started preordering trees in September, weeks earlier than they usually do, but that didn’t dent walk-up sales to his lots at all. Even his corporate clients, many of whose employees are working from home, still ordered trees for their offices, including a 30-footer for the lobby of Georgia-Pacific’s headquarters. “We’re at a pretty good pace of driving to the city, dropping off trees, coming home, cutting more, and driving to the city to drop off trees,” Galen Parke of Adam Parke Trees, Tempesta’s supplier in Vermont, told me. When I called him, he warned me that the signal might drop—he was in the truck, driving through rural New England once again, hoping the strong demand didn’t suddenly dry up. If anything, sellers usually have the opposite problem: Because Christmas trees take a decade or so to reach maturity, low planting rates during the Great Recession have constrained current supply. In a normal year, it’s still enough to meet demand, but little about this year is normal.