Christmas tree lot

A nearly empty Christmas tree lot on South Churton Street in Hillsborough.

In the classic animated holiday special “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” Charlie Brown is ridiculed by his friends for choosing a sad, scrawny Christmas tree. This year, driven by record demand for real Christmas trees, Charlie Brown might have had to go without.

Local Christmas tree vendors are seeing unprecedented demand for trees, and some of the lots, like Smith’s Family Fun Farm in Hillsborough, have completely sold out.

“It was pretty amazing,” said Jeff Denson, who owns a Christmas tree lot with his wife, Dawn, and runs it with his family.  “Our second weekend was just the craziest rush we’ve ever had. I think everybody was just ready to have some joy in their life.”

Denson said the Smith’s Family Fun Farm started with about 1,000 trees and ran out of them on Dec. 2.  “It’s never happened before. I got on the phone and found about 140 more. I got those. Three or four days later we were out,” he said.

Denson’s family has its own tree farm that supplies its lot, and gets additional trees from a farm in Sparta. Each year, Denson said, the family tries to grow its inventory of trees by 100, but it was unable to do that this year.  

“Normally I like to have a few trees left over at the end of the year,” Denson said. “That way I know everybody’s taken care of.”

He said his family made sure to get their own tree before they sold out. It was his 13-year-old daughter’s turn to pick one. “To me, it looks like a ‘Grinch’ tree. It’s one probably no one else would buy.” 

Although this year, all bets are off.

Denson said he knows other Christmas tree growers and sellers, and they are seeing similar demand for trees. 

“I know some big growers and they’re in the same boat,” he said. “We all try to talk with one another, see if you have anything left here or there. Maybe we can get a few more. There’s just nothing out there.”

Denson blames some of the shortage on a decision some nurseries made to stop planting trees in 2008 when there was a glut. “It takes three or four years to go from a seed to a field transplant,” he said. “When the nurseries didn’t grow seedlings for a few years, that really hurt the market. There’s just not a whole lot of trees out there, and it’s probably going to be bad for a couple more years. 

“If this had been 2010, I could have gone back and gotten another 500 trees. Right now, everybody is cut off. And the growers won’t have anything for next year, either,” Denson said.

David Forrest, who with his brother, runs a Christmas tree lot on South Churton Street near Boone Square, said his lot has had record tree and wreath sales this year. He said they’ve never seen anything like it in the 25 years they’ve sold trees. Forrest attributed the lack of trees to demand, and people wanting to have real trees instead of artificial ones.

“Kids are stuck at home and they say, ‘Dad, let’s get a real tree this year,’” said Forrest. His lot started just before Thanksgiving with 200 trees, but was down to an handful. He said he expected his last trees to sell quickly and and they would likely pack up his lot in the next week.”

Back at Smith’s Family Fun Farm, the Denson’s find themselves in the unusual situation of having extra time on their hands. Covid won’t allow the family to take part in the Christmas parties they usually have to miss because of the tree business, but the couple said it will spend more time with their immediate family. And catch up on work, which includes expanding the offerings at the Smith’s Family Fun Farm.

“We’re trying to put in a pizza oven so families can come in and fix their own pizza,” Denson said. “We’re trying to get that in place right now. Since we’re not open now, we’re going to start that process as fast as we can.”

In addition to Christmas trees, Denson also has a pumpkin patch for folks to visit and pick out pumpkins. Much like the demand for Christmas trees, he said pumpkin sales were brisk. He believes much of the demand for pumpkins and Christmas trees is because people are searching for something they can do as a family, that restores some sort of tradition and normalcy. 

“Anything people can do locally to enjoy the day in a safe way is going to thrive at this time,” he said.