With Thanksgiving behind us, it’s time to tackle Christmas.
Around South Florida on Friday, merrymakers got a jump-start on the season by buying Christmas trees and, for some, beginning a month of tradition-packed holidays.
“It’s the best day to get it done,” Rose Ann Healy said as she and her daughter, Catherine, secured a tree to the roof of their car outside a Coral Gables Publix.
While the number of fake trees going up is rising, Americans still largely prefer the real thing. Last year, more than 26 million Americans bought pre-cut Christmas trees, according to the National Christmas Tree Association. Most polled spent $39.50 on a tree, totaling about $1.04 billion in sales in 2014.
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Box stores and supermarkets have replaced farms for most shoppers, according to the association. About 26 percent of sales are made from farms, while scout troops, churches and other nonprofits account for just 9 percent of sales.
Friday morning, about a half dozen families searched trees at the Publix on Le Jeune Road that were split into two price groups — $49.99 for under seven feet and $59.99 for taller. The Healys have been buying their tree first thing the day after Thanksgiving at the same Publix for the past 15 years, Rose Ann Healy said.
“Except one year when the truck was late,” she said. “We always get the largest.”
Across town, Christmas trees and poinsettias are being sold on U.S. 1 next to the Coral Gables Baptist Church. They opened last Saturday, and have seen an increase in clientele throughout the week.
“Today has been pretty busy,” said Chrstina Callesis, a sales associate. “I feel like once Thanksgiving is over, people are ready to get into the Christmas spirit.”
Prices range from $35 for the smallest trees, approximately two feet tall, to $425 for 10-foot trees.
On Friday, they had a rush from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., according to Joseph Garcia, another sales associate.
Bill Demshok and his wife Sonia Bower make it a tradition to go tree shopping on Black Friday. While many are at malls and shopping centers, the couple decided to spend time picking out a tree. They went for a smaller two-foot size.
“It’s the beginning of the season so you hurry up and buy it and avoid the rush later,” Demshok said.
Christmas tree shopping on Black Friday is a more recent tradition for Maria Villa and her three daughters, who moved to North Miami Beach from Venezuela in 2011.
“I come here every year,” Villa said on Friday after picking a 6-foot-6-inch-tall Fraser Fir from under the red-and-white striped circus tent at Bella Christmas Trees on 10791 Biscayne Blvd. Villa’s triplet daughters, Camila, Mariana and Julieta, all 16-years-old, giggled in anticipation of an afternoon spent decorating the tree.
The holiday spirit is one of the things that makes this business worthwhile for Jim and Dennise Basi and their business partner, Gus Feliz.
They have operated the roadside Christmas tree lot just north of East Greynolds Park for seven years running, and the week after Thanksgiving is crunch time.
“It’s on now,” Jim Basi said.
Sales are steady even into New Year’s Day, though, said Brandon Ramos, one of the tree lot’s employees, because many in the area’s large Russian immigrant community buy Christmas trees to celebrate Three Kings’ Day, which is observed on Jan. 6.
Basi said Bella sells about 700 trees a week — all Fraser Firs, which are shipped by truck from North Carolina. Prices range from $40 to several hundred for a tree, depending on the height and bushiness.
With a large sign off Biscayne Boulevard, and lots of traffic, Bella benefits from its location.
“It’s a good business,” Basi said. “Everyone’s in a good mood, and the money’s not bad.”
But its days may be numbered. A condominium tower is rising on the lakeside property, and the lot is likely to be closed after another year or two.
A few miles down the road, KB’s is something of a Christmas tree-lot landmark on Biscayne Boulevard in the North Miami area. A family-run business for 41 years, it is owned by Kevin Burns, the former mayor of North Miami.
Burns started the business as a senior in high school as a way to win an agricultural award.
“At one time we had 11 locations in Miami-Dade and Broward counties,” Burns said on Friday, in a brief respite from helping his traditional post-Thanksgiving customers.“We have downsized over the years and now have just this one location.”
Burns said he buys his supply of Fraser Fir, Blue Spruce, Scotch Pine, White Spruce and Concolor trees from growers in North Carolina, Michigan and Vermont, putting in his orders in June. He said the typical 7- to 8-foot-tall tree costs between $65 and $85.
He noted that the recent heist of the two Costco semi-trailer trucks loaded with Fraser Firs will have zero impact on the Christmas tree retail business in the Miami area.
“It won’t even be a bleep to them,” Burns said of the retail giant’s loss. “It’s not going to affect anyone’s business.”
KB’s, which has a vintage red fire engine parked at the entrance, opened its white-tented lot on Nov. 20 and will stay open until Dec. 20. Asked how many trees he usually sells in that period, Burns said: “I can’t say for competitive reasons.”
Droves of families were picking out Christmas trees at midday Friday.
“I come here because of Kevin,” said Kristi Stockton, who was with her two sons and father visiting from California.
They picked out a Fraser Fir for $65.
“We come here every year,” said Mary Leckband, who was with her son and daughter. “This is a family tradition.”
Popular as they are, roadside tree farms just don’t have the market power of a big box retailer, like Costco. At the one in Doral, a steady line of customers bought trees stored in a shipping container.
Shoppers on Friday had no trouble getting one. Or three.
Ana and Tony Haber had three trees on their SUV; all for home. They drove from their home in Kendall to the Costco off West Flagler Street because of the price — 7- to 8-foot-tall trees for just under $30.
“It’s a good deal,” Ana Haber said.
Christmas tree care tips
- The right-size stand allows the tree to soak up water most effectively. The tree’s outer layers absorb water best.
- The water’s temperature will not affect the absorption rate.
- Drilling a hole in the trunk doesn’t improve water uptake.
- Use lights low in heat — the tree won’t dry out as much.
- Always unplug the tree when going out or going to bed.
- Check the stand daily to ensure water levels don’t go below the base of the tree.
Click here for tree recycling tips
Source: National Christmas Tree Association