Nationwide Christmas tree shortage looming

It may be Thanksgiving, but savvy shoppers are already planning their Christmas tree shopping with a nationwide shortage looming.

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Since it can take 6-10 years for a Christmas tree to mature to a proper height, the fallout from the recession in 2008 has stretched the market in recent years.

That paired with a sales spike driven by millennials seeking real trees has left people scrambling in recent years — real trees saw a 20-percent sales spike in 2018, according to the National Christmas Tree Association.

“There’s nothing about a plastic Christmas tree made in China and shipped over on a boat that connects with a young person’s life,” said Tim O’Conner, the executive director of the National Christmas Tree Association.

“The suppliers they’ve had for years can’t supply them trees anymore,” said Jeff Coates, the owner of Coates Christmas Trees, explaining why fewer and fewer roadside pre-cut tree lots are open these days. “If you go drive around the streets of Seattle you don’t see nearly as many lots as you did even seven, eight or nine years ago.”

Coates told KIRO-7 that he's turned a number of wholesale companies away, opting instead to supply local families — his farm is a story of luck. He fell in love with the business as a college student and always wanted to have a traditional tree farm where shoppers cut their own tree. He started planting trees in 2004, when everyone else was abandoning the business.

“It’s probably not the best time to be getting into the tree business,” he said laughing. “It slowed down and people were jumping ship.”

In Washington many tree farms closed their doors and started planting different crops that returned more value. While there has always been a cycle of too few, and too many, trees on the market Coates said that the fluctuating economy over the past two decades and fewer people buying artificial trees has created a huge change. His farm has only been selling trees to the public since 2011, but he’s regularly selling out in 8-9 business days despite having thousands of trees for sale.

This year, Coates expects upwards of 500 customers in the opening days. His farm, and many others in the region, officially open on Friday. His advice: plan a trip this weekend if you want a chance to be picky, after a few days the trees are picked over.

“You’ll get a selection and you’ll get a tree you like,” said Coates. “If you wait until the middle of December it’ll be tough — you’ll definitely want to come early.”

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