A Christmas tree shortage in Aspen? Well, sort of.

Local merchants likely to sell out before the holidays

Emily Hansen carries a Christmas tree for a customer at the rodeo lot tree sale in Snowmass Village on Monday, Dec. 7, 2020. Hansen and her crew are from Moab and she’s been working for the Great Frasier Fir Co. for six years. This year is different with COVID-19. The demand for Christmas trees are up. By day four, the team had sold half of their inventory.

You’ve probably seen the headlines: there’s a national Christmas tree shortage this year, with trickle down effects from a low supply of fresh-cut firs from coast to coast.

But a lack of trees in Aspen? Well, sort of.

Yes, trees are selling like gangbusters at the Snowmass Village Rodeo Lot and at the “Mr. Christmas” lot outside of Clark’s Market in Aspen. And yes, it’s likely that those trees will sell out faster this year due to the jump in sales. But according to local tree sellers, that’s mostly due to demand (and perhaps a bit of panic-buying), not supply.

Jeff Lefebvre fluffs up the branches on a freshly-made wreath at the tree sale in Snowmass Rodeo lot on Monday, Dec. 7, 2020.

“We have plenty of trees here,” said Emily Hansen, who has worked at the Snowmass Village lot for six years; she’s a longtime friend of Kip Ertl, who founded the Snowmass lot nearly two decades ago.

This year, inventory moved fast in what she called “the busiest four days ever of opening” when sales started Dec. 3, but the demand has tapered off since then.

A “hold” ticket hangs on a Christmas tree at the Snowmass Rodeo lot on Monday, Dec. 7, 2020. Emily Sudduth, an employee of the Great Frasier Fir Company said that people seemed worried that they would run out of trees so they’d had a lot of business in their first few days.
Jeff Lefebvre freshens the base of a 13 and a half foot Christmas tree while Emily Sudduth holds the tree stable in the bed of a customer’s pickup truck at the Snowmass Rodeo Lot on Monday, Dec. 7, 2020. The Great Frasier Fir Company was started by Kip Ertl approximately 20 years. This year, the pandemic is believed to be causing a nation-wide Christmas tree shortage due to individual households having their own celebrations. The rodeo lot sale usually closes on Christmas Eve, but this year the crew from Moab, Utah is planning to close no later than December 17. The crew of three explained that they ordered less trees this year and had sold half of their inventory in the first four days that they were open.Their trees usually cost anywhere from $50 to $1000 for trees from three to 16 feet tall. The trees cost them one and a half times more than normal to ship them from the farm in North Carolina, because of a higher demand for trees. “I also believe that this year has been sad and difficult for some people,” said Emily Hansen who has worked with the Great Frasier Fir Company for the past six years. “So we think maybe Christmas is something happy and people want their own trees this year.”

The lot also ordered fewer trees this year, thinking sales would decrease if some families skipped the tree to forgo the expense or if fewer people traveled to the area for the holiday due to COVID-19 concerns. Plus, the farm they order from in North Carolina spiked its prices this year, in part due to that supply-and-demand equation; prices haven’t changed much at the lot in Snowmass, but staff was concerned that any trees that didn’t sell by Christmas would bite a chunk out of their margins, hence the smaller order.

But it turns out demand has been “on par” with previous years, Hansen said, Eager beavers who bought trees in that early-days frenzy added a boost. The lot had sold nearly 60% of their smaller-this-year inventory in the first week, and Hansen expects trees to sell out by Dec. 15; that could change depending on this weekend’s sales.

Emily Hansen carries a tree to be displayed out of a rodeo chute at the tree sale in Snomwass Village on Monday, Dec. 7, 2020.
A blue truck, used for tree deliveries, is parked next to the Snowmass Rodeo lot tree sale on Monday, Dec. 7, 2020.

Some of that spike could be because some folks were eager to add some Christmas cheer during a difficult year, Hansen guessed. But it could also be due to a fear of a shortage fueled by the national news reports, she said.

“If you hear something and they don’t know, they don’t say Aspen, they just say Christmas tree shortage, that’s what people hear and remember,” she said. “So they run down to their local lot and they start buying trees.”

That same tree shortage panic-buying may have also boosted sales at the Mr. Christmas lot outside of Clark’s Market in Aspen; Michael Carter (better known as Mr. Christmas himself) runs that lot and has been in the tree business for more than four decades.

Carter said media coverage of the shortage likely “pushed some people to act a little quick” when they were shopping for their trees this year. But a lower supply in trees isn’t exactly breaking news to Carter. He said there’s been a shortage for a couple of years now, but it hasn’t affected his inventory; he was ordered the same amount of trees as he usually does without a problem from his regular supplier in Michigan.

Even so, inventory is selling out faster than it has in years past.

“For us, it’s because more people are here,” Carter said. He has seen a spike in demand because more people have moved to Aspen this year, and more residents means a greater need for trees.

Emily Sudduth creates a holiday wreath with fresh clippings from Christmas trees in the Snowmass Rodeo lot on Monday, Dec. 7, 2020.

Usually there are a couple dozen trees left on Christmas Eve, but that’s unlikely this year with the high demand, but Carter estimates he’ll run out by Dec. 20. A portion of the proceeds go to Aspen Junior Hockey, and with the strong numbers from this season, Carter estimates $6,500 to $7,000 will support local youth on the ice.

“This will be the first year that we’ve sold out before the 24th in probably 15 years,” Carter said.

“This year will be a stellar year.”

There’s another thing that Carter said could be driving the demand this season: with most hallmarks of the holidays canceled or modified due to the COVID-19 pandemic, “people are looking for some normalcy.”

Emily Hansen, left, and Emily Sudduth pull a stand from the base of a Christmas tree as Jeff Lefebvre hangs wreaths in the Snowmass Rodeo lot on Monday, Dec. 7, 2020.

Over at the lot in Snowmass Village, Emily Hansen noticed the same thing.

“I think there’s a large population of people this year that want to have a Christmas because they want to have some happiness,” Hansen said. “I think they want to celebrate something and having a Christmas tree in your own home is something that you can say you did.”

“We’re searching for things to be happy for this year,” she said.

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