Small Christmas tree vendors battling higher tree prices, box store competition

CENTRAL ISLIP, Long Island (WABC) -- Some small Christmas tree vendors on Long Island are struggling this year due to competition from big box stores, from higher purchasing costs of Christmas trees and a low supply of trees.

After 50 years of selling Christmas trees, Papa's Family Farm in Central Islip called it quits this year. John Papa said his business can't compete with the large retail chains, like Home Depot and Amazon. He said the cost to buy trees also went up this year by $5 to $15 per tree.

"You have to look at the bottom line. Business in the last couple of years is getting worse and worse," he said.

George Larson owns two Christmas tree stands, one of them off Sunrise Highway in Bohemia. He said sales are going steady this year, but it's difficult to keep up.

"It's tough. It's not easy. The bigger stores and the box stores do hurt us. There's no question about it," Larson said.

According to the National Christmas Tree Association, a tight supply of Christmas trees is affecting vendors all across the country this year.

Tim O'Connor, the association's executive director, said in the late 1990s and early 2000s, a large supply of Christmas trees saturated the market and forced prices to drop so low that many businesses and farmers were forced to close. O'Connor said 30 percent of Christmas tree growers in the Northwest went out of business.

Throughout the past 10 years, O'Connor said Christmas tree farmers have been making a concerted effort to limit the amount of trees grown in order to create a more competitive pricing structure and thus ensure the survival of their farms. As a result, Christmas tree prices are slightly higher this year, which could make business difficult for small vendors.

"The industry is in a profitable period for growers after years of oversupply that pushed prices below breakeven followed by a recession," O'Connor said.

O'Connor said across the country, the cut-your-own-tree business is booming.

Eyewitness News reporter Kristin Thorne verified that with Stephen Spinola with Mike's Tree Farm in Manorville. He said business is thriving.

"We got a lot of new customers coming out -- a lot of millennials coming out. It's becoming a new trend to come cut your own Christmas trees," he said. "About four out of five of our customers have been brand new customers that we've never had before."

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