With a shorter holiday season and the rising cost of Christmas trees, Christmas tree vendors around Umatilla County are hoping for a productive season despite tree shortages in recent years.
Boy Scouts of America Troop 700 Scout Josiah Bork has been selling trees with the Boy Scouts for six years and said the sale raises money to help Scouts pay for campouts and summer camp. Bork said the trees, which are purchased wholesale from a farm in Molalla, have gotten harder to come by in recent years resulting in many substitutions or incomplete orders from their wholesaler. Substitutions occur when vendors are unable to meet demand for a particular type of tree and must substitute in other varieties.
“For the last few years, it’s been harder to get the full order,” he said. “Last year, we really had a major shortage of trees and only got about 200.”
This year, Troop 700, which is set up in the parking lot of Dave’s Chevron across the street from Roy Raley Park, were able to get its full order of 260 trees and said that, as of Tuesday night, it had sold more than half. Unlike other stands that open the day after Thanksgiving, the troop opens its stand for just 10 days in the first full week of December. Bork said the stand will most likely close this coming Sunday and he expects that they will have sold all of their trees by then.
Bork said the shorter holiday season led to increased purchases in their first few days open this year.
“The first two days were a lot busier than last year,” he said. “It’s a bit busier due to the late Thanksgiving this year.”
The Hermiston Kiwanis Club tree stand experienced a similar rush at the start of the season, according to Doug Barak, a past Kiwanis president in charge of this year’s stand.
“We barely had the trees on the lot when people started coming out,” he said.
The Hermiston Kiwanis Club tree stand, in the parking lot of the Hermiston Community Center, has been selling Christmas trees as a fundraiser since the 1970s. Barak said community support has always been key in their efforts to sell trees.
“The community is so supportive of us,” he said. “We work really hard to keep our costs down so that as much as possible can go back into the community.”
Funds from the tree sale help to pay for a variety of Kiwanis programs, including college scholarships, dental screenings and community improvement projects, such as the new lighting at Kiwanis Park in Umatilla this year.
Despite running into issues procuring trees in previous years, the Hermiston Kiwanis Club found a steady supplier several years ago that has helped them maintain their sales numbers.
“About four or five years ago we had to scramble to find enough trees,” Barak said. “Since then, we have been relatively consistent and our customer base seems used to the type of trees we’ve had.”
The Hermiston Kiwanis Club expects to end sales on Sunday evening. Barak said he expects the club will sell its entire order of 400 trees, having sold roughly 300 of them in their first week of operation.
“It’s just a great fundraiser for us, and a great family experience to go and find the perfect tree,” he said.
At Hepler’s Christmas Trees, on the corner of Southwest Frazer Avenue and 12th Street, brothers Tom and Jeff Hepler have been selling Christmas trees for the last eight years in Pendleton. Tom Hepler began selling Christmas trees nearly 30 years ago as a way of raising money to buy Christmas presents for his wife and five children.
Tom Hepler said that although he sells trees to make a profit, he tries to keep his prices as low as possible, something that has become more difficult in recent years. The Heplers are one of many Christmas tree sellers that use farm-raised trees, making them reliant on farms that set wholesale tree prices. While the Heplers said they haven’t had any issues getting the number of trees they need by using family and friends’ farms, they have run into increased prices.
“The prices have gone up nearly double,” said Jeff Hepler. “They went from $3 a foot to nearly $8 a foot for wholesale.”
The Heplers said the Great Recession in the late 2000s led to a drop in demand for trees, causing many farmers to go out of business or tear out tree operations in favor of other crops, a change that led to fewer available trees. Despite this, the Heplers feel as though the tree glut is improving.
“As far as getting trees, it’s going to get better,” said Tom Hepler. “The larger trees have been an issue though, so if you want a big tree, you better come early.”
While access to trees appears to be improving, the brothers said the shortened holiday season and rise in artificial tree sales will keep their sales lower than last year. This year, the brothers expect to sell roughly 500 trees, down from a record 540 sold last year.
“Financially, artificial trees are taking over,” said Jeff Hepler. “But it’s the smell, and the ambiance and the whole Christmas tree atmosphere that keeps our customers coming back.”
While most Christmas tree vendors in Pendleton get their trees from commercial tree farms on the west side of the state, Ward Walker harvests all of his trees by hand from nearby forest land. Walker, who runs Walker’s Christmas Trees on Southgate in Pendleton, said the only thing that could hurt his tree sales would be a widespread tree disease.
“I’m not reliant on the tree farms,” he said.
Unlike farm-raised trees, the trees on Walker’s lot vary greatly in height and width and are less “full” than many are used to, he said. Walker said his trees are exactly what his clients want.
“My clientele is people that grew up and went to the forest to get their own tree,” he said. “My biggest competition is people who can make it to the mountains to get their own tree.”
Walker sells trees to fill the winter lull in his landscaping business and says he can sell anywhere from 300 to 450 trees depending on the year, though, he says that sales fluctuate more than he’d like. Walker said sales have been good in recent years, and he is prepared to keep selling trees right up to the end of the week before Christmas.
“If I get close to running out, I can just go harvest a few more,” he said. “I really love what I do.”