Christmas tree prices up 10% to 50% this year

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Bob Heath has one Christmas tree customer who’s been going to his tent since her father brought her in a handbasket, some 50 years ago.

A lot has changed ever since. One thing hasn’t: Christmas tree prices keep rising.

They are 10% to 50% higher this year from just one year ago, depending on the size and type of tree, said Heidi Heath, Bob’s daughter and part of the Heath Christmas Trees family business. She and her sister Holly Heath run the tent at 1863 Ninth St. N. in Naples, across the street from Cheesecake Factory at Coastland Center mall, in a lot adjacent to a Chevron station.

Bob Heath, 94, and his colleague Janice Clark run the tent in Fort Myers. This year, it’s located behind the vacant restaurant at 13851 S. Tamiami Trail, just south of Barnes & Noble and Daniels Parkway.

Prices keep rising due to a perfect storm of truck driver shortages, rising fuel prices and a shrinking supply of North Carolina trees.

“This shortage is ridiculous,” said Al Mueller, who for 31 years has owned Uncle Al’s Christmas Trees. This year, it’s at 5170 Tamiami Trail in Fort Myers, across from Page Field Commons and near Sam’s Club. “It has to do with the mass exodus of people moving out of big cities and into the suburbs.”

The old tree farms are becoming residential communities in suburban North Carolina, Mueller said.

“This is coming straight from our farmers now,” Mueller said of the trends. “We’re going to go through our inventory that much quicker. Just today, at least five customers I can think of, this was their first time in Florida for Christmas. I’m concerned about the mass influx of new residents and how that’s going to affect sales.”

When Bob Heath first set up shop in 1968 in Fort Myers, he did so across U.S. 41 from the Fort Myers Country Club. He recalled bringing about 800 trees and selling all but 200 of them. Back then, they cost $20 or less.

Today, the price for a tree ranges from $39 to $3,000.

Heath and Mueller wouldn’t divulge the number of trees they each typically sell, but it’s in the thousands.

The average trees are going for $70 to $150 these days.

“When I first came, all of my trees were from Wisconsin,” said Bob Heath, who owns a 600-acre farm in Coloma, Wisconsin, about 70 miles north of Madison. “But the world changes, and you change along with it.

“There are trees from my farm in Wisconsin. There are trees from a neighbor of mine, about 15 miles away from me.

There are trees from North Carolina and from Washington state. We have a mixture of different varieties.”

The Heaths and Mueller engage in a friendly competition. When one runs out of a product or a supply, they help accommodate each other with the shortages.

So far, it’s looking good for their tree supplies despite what’s looking like a national shortage.

“Fortunately, for myself and for Bob, we’ve got concrete relationships with the farmers we deal with,” Mueller said. “We’re spot-on with our numbers from last year.”

In 2011, during the Great Recession, tree sales went down, and therefore fewer were planted. It takes about eight years for a Douglas fir tree to mature. That means Great Recession-related tree shortages are still a thing.

The shortage—or even just the perception of a shortage—means the Heaths expect to sell more trees before Dec. 17, which is typically their last day selling.

“People are more anxious with having enough trees,” said Holly Heath, Bob’s daughter and sister Heidi’s colleague. Holly has been in the family business for 42 years, and Heidi for 46 years. “There is a truth to the shortage. Just because of the supply and demand. With the trucking, the price of everything has gone up.”

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