Frasier furlough: Christmas tree shortage affects Bladen County

By: Chrysta Carroll - Bladen Journal

Bladen County Christmas tree sellers are having a tree-mendous year, so much so that there are very few evergreens left to be had in the county.

“We’ve only got these three trees left,” said Avery Britt, Food Lion produce salesman who oversees the store’s tree sales.

The store ordered 210 trees for this holiday season, and the three that remain are on the small side. On Friday, Britt and a team of workers were gathering up empty pallets and doing other cleanup to bring the annual sale to a close.

“We’ve had a good year,” he commented. “We’ll definitely get rid of these last three.”

In November, Christmas tree farmers in the state began warning of a shortage of trees this year, due in part to to an excess a decade ago. Several consecutive years of abundance — partly because the Great Recession meant fewer people buying trees — resulted in 2008 and 2009 being years farmers planted fewer saplings. Since a Fraser fir, for example, takes roughly 10 years to mature to the desired height of seven to eight feet, the decade-old glut means fewer trees this year.

The shortage affected at least one Bladen County seller. For decades now, the Elizabethtown Optimist Club has sold trees as a way of raising money for youth projects in the county. One of their two major fundraisers, the sale is held annually on West Broad Street in front of San Jose, and they always get rid of all of their trees. This year, however, they sold out unusually early, a fact President Ryan Godwin attributed to the scarcity.

“We usually get 175 trees, and we wanted to up our order to 200 this year, because we always sell out,” the optimist explained. “But the Christmas tree farm we order from said they were going to dock our order by 40 percent because of the shortage, so we only got 130 trees this year.”

Godwin, however, informed the club’s buyers of the problem, and people flocked to get their trees early.

“We sold 48 trees on Black Friday, and 38 more on Saturday,” he commented, ” so we went through three-quarters of our inventory in two days, and we were sold out completely before Dec. 1. That’s never happened before.”

Sellers across the state, and even the nation, are jacking up prices to reflect the deficit. Fraser and noble firs are favorites, and costs were expected to be higher than the $75 average Americans paid for their Christmas centerpiece last year. The shortfall, combined with diesel prices almost 50 cents higher than last year, had pundits speculating the cost of trees would rise 5-10 percent this year.

Bladen County sellers, however, didn’t seem to pass along the increase. Britt said his store’s trees were $29.95 no matter the size, just like they’ve been for years. Likewise, Godwin said Optimist trees increased by only $1 and ranged from $39 to $79, despite years of increased costs. Both organizations buy trees from the mountains of North Carolina, which supplies roughly half of the nation’s holiday evergreens.

“We had a great year as far as selling trees quickly,” said Godwin. “It definitely would have been better if we could have sold more trees, but we appreciate people supporting us.”

Funds from the Optimist Club sale are used to benefit youth. Past projects and recipients include the soccer field at East Bladen, the Boys and Girls Homes of Lake Waccamaw, and Released Time of Bladen County.

Chrysta Carroll can be reached by calling 910-862-4163 or emailing has to do with kids and leadership skills

Chrysta Carroll

Bladen Journal