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Christmas Trees Fly Off the Lots This Year


Fritz Rapp and daughter Kayla Mudge bought a towering Christmas tree for their Baldwin Park home last year. But this holiday season, they have ordered six.

They plan to adorn their balcony, front porch, living room and patio with about $700 worth of Fraser firs "to make it festive and warm and loving and welcoming," said Mudge, an attorney.

Mudge's family isn't typical, but industry experts predict American consumers will splurge on more and generally taller Christmas trees this holiday season.

The recovering economy and higher consumer confidence have made the holiday-shopping season brighter in general. The National Retail Federation reported a 13 percent sales increase during Black Friday weekend.

"I think there is a lot of optimism," said Jami Warner, executive director of the American Christmas Tree Association.

Even with increased demand, Christmas tree prices have risen only slightly this year. Warner's group estimates the average cost of a live tree is up $1 from $46 last year. Artificial trees' average costs have gone up $2 ― to $80.

And the National Christmas Tree Association said supply has remained strong despite this year's extreme weather.

Home Depot said artificial-tree sales are up in the double digits. And it anticipates customers will buy 2.5 million fresh-cut trees, up from 2 million the previous year. Home Depot is the nation's largest seller of fresh-cut trees.

"People have a little bit more money to put toward them," Home Depot spokeswoman Meg Daws said.

An earlier Thanksgiving could also help, giving tree sellers five full weekends between Turkey Day and Christmas.

In Orlando, Jake Krauklis said the first weekend at College Park Trees was "as busy as I've ever been."

And Santa's Christmas Tree Forest in Eustis had an unusually strong opening weekend, with about a 5 percent bump in trees sold, owner Jack Ewing said.

Santa's Christmas Tree Forest, where families can cut their own trees and enjoy attractions such as hayrides, sells native varieties such as sand pines generally priced at $4 to $4.25 per foot.

Krauklis' College Park lot sells mostly Fraser firs shipped from out of state. Trees range from a $20 tabletop to a $500, 16-foot specimen Krauklis said has been purchased by the Dubsdread ballroom.

Krauklis said many customers are paying $50 and up for extra bling in the form of "flock" ― a mixture of spray-on wood pulp, corn starch and boron that looks like snow.

And many customers are buying more than one. Small trees with pink flocking, for example, have become popular for girls' bedrooms.

Customers have started gravitating toward bigger trees during the past two or three years, Daws said, buying more 8 to 12 feet tall instead of 6 to 8 feet.

But as the trees have gotten taller, many also have become skinnier. Trees about half as wide as a regular one have become popular with apartment dwellers and families who want to them in places such as foyers and playrooms. Sam's Club is selling only slim trees in its stores this year.

Overall, sales of Christmas trees dipped during the economic downturn, but they have rebounded. Last year, 30.8 million real trees were sold compared with 27 million the previous year, according to the National Christmas Tree Association. There were 9.5 million artificial ones sold in 2011 compared with 8.2 million the previous year, the group said.

Connie Shaffer of College Park says she can't do without one of the season's most important symbols.

"To put that tree in the home and smell it is just awesome," said Shaffer, 72, who shopped at Krauklis' lot this week. "Every room in my house is decorated. The tree's the most important thing."

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