Early Christmas tree sales up in NC

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 1, 2008

ASHEVILLE, N.C. (AP) – After one weekend, Christmas tree farms in western North Carolina appear to be standing tall in the face of a struggling economy.

The Asheville Citizen-Times reports that farmers enjoyed a good opening weekend, and one official representing growers expects this year to be as good as 2007.

“We’re finding that our sales are up a little for the choose-and-cut operation,” said James Pitts, who operates the 100-acre Sugarplum Farm operation in Avery County with his wife, Helen. “We had a real good weekend. Our business has been increasing in choose-and-cut year after year. And our wholesale is not down, even though we thought it was going to be at first.”

Last year, the state’s 1,600 Christmas tree growers sold about 5.5 million trees, shipping them all over the country, according to Linda Gragg, executive director of the N.C. Christmas Tree Association.

While Gragg acknowledged that the national economic woes are a concern to anyone who sells any product, she said that choose-and-cut sales continue to grow and that wholesale looks steady.

“Here in the mountains, as far as wholesale goes, most everybody is selling what they want to sell,” Gragg said. “I don’t think it will set any records, but it will be about equal to last year.”

Pitts said his wholesale buyers cut back on their total orders by about 5 percent, but he was able to make up the difference with two new customers.

Betsy Boyd, who operates Boyd Mountain Christmas Tree Farm with her husband, Dan, and their son, David, said their choose-and-cut sales jumped last weekend, compared with the same weekend last year. Their 60-acre farm is between Maggie Valley and Waynesville in the Jonathan Creek area of Haywood County.

“This year, even in a driving rain, we had people stop by,” Betsy Boyd said. “So the economy so far has not affected our business. We think people are going to keep that tradition of having a tree, even if they’re cutting other expenses.”

On the wholesale end, the farm sells to smaller tree lots, and that has remained strong, too.

“We’ve sold all we’re going to sell, and we’re turning people away that want wholesale trees,” she said.