Laurie Hargrave is more anxious this year than usual for the Christmas season to begin.
“We really need it. We all need it after what we’ve been through,” the Pleasantville resident said, referring to Hurricane Sandy. “This year is more about giving. There’s nothing I want (as far as presents). I just feel the joy of giving.”
Many local Christmas tree sellers are reporting sales up so far this year — partly due to the early Thanksgiving, on Nov. 22, and also because residents are eager to put the events of the past month behind them and focus on something fun and special.
Laurie Hargrave was at Ronnie’s Garden Center on Tuesday in Northfield with her husband, James, to buy a white flocked tree — something the couple has wanted for years. They picked out the first one in the row and plan to set it up quickly. This will be a special Christmas because it will be the first time the couple will host their first grandchild.
“I love the season,” Hargrave said. “The longer the better. It’s a great time of year, and it’s a great time to be with family.”
Chris Nicholson, vice president of the New Jersey Christmas Tree Growers’ Association, said there are about 200 members of the association who grow trees, and they have all reported they have been busy the first couple of weekends after Thanksgiving, when the tree-shopping season begins.
The crop this year has been good, which is important for area residents. Nicholson said the majority of retailers with small tree lots get their trees from growers in the state or in nearby Pennsylvania.
“This was a good year for local growers,” he said. “A lot of what we do is dependent on weather at Christmas time.”
He also said the majority of owners he talked to kept prices the same this year.
Donna Cole, president of the association, said Thanksgiving was the earliest it could be this year, which meant more time for people to buy their trees. Sandy did cause many growers some stress in order to be open in time for Black Friday but many were prepared for the start of the season, she said.
Christmas tree growing is a big industry in the state. More than 79,000 trees are cut every year, according to the state Department of Agriculture.
Each of the tree farms have their own quirks to keep their customers coming back every year.
Clarke Burns, of the family-owned Krogman’s Christmas Tree Farm in Dennisville, said the season’s been busier so far this year. They plan to sell about a thousand trees on their farm.
“We’ve been here for so long we have the same clientele,” he said. They also attract many new customers with the pig pens at the site stocked with animals from their farm.
Another key is the pin stands they sell with the trees that people can easily slide their trees onto, Burns said.
“We call them our marriage savers because they are so easy,” he said.
Bob Hamilton, owner of Airport Tree Plantation in Millville, said he sells all trees for $45. He gives customers a saw so they can go out and pick from the 20,000 trees on the farm.
The business does not charge by foot, so “there’s no reason to cut off the top to make it smaller,” he said.
Local stores are also reporting a busier season so far.
Jim Rodio, of the family-owned Ronnie’s Garden Center, said they specialize in flocking Douglas fir tress by covering them in a white pulp that looks like snow. Rodio said it makes their trees, which they ship in from the Poconos, stand out more among the competition.
“It does get competitive, but we have more premium tress,” he said. “They are a lot nicer than what you’d see on the side of the road somewhere.”
With the tree already at home, Ventnor resident Theresa Bannon was with her daughter Mikayla on a search for the 8-year-old’s most important part of the holiday: the star on top. Mikayla asked her mom for the biggest and brightest star they had.
“It’s fun to get to see it all lit up when it’s done,” she said.
Mikayla Bannon couldn’t wait to start the holiday decorating. When her mother said Tuesday they would probably decorate that night, she started jumping up and down in the store.
Mike Nachtigall runs Mike’s Christmas Trees at the Shore Mall parking lot in Egg Harbor Township. He operates between Thanksgiving and Christmas and said he gets a variety of trees from New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Oregon, North Carolina and other areas to sell at the lot.
The Cape May Court House resident, who formerly owned Mike’s Garden Market in Rio Grande, said he tries to keep prices low because of the economy. He said many customers start looking around for trees on Black Friday and compare for the best prices. Nachtigall said sales for some of his trees, such as the flocked trees, were about double what they were this time last year.
Ocean City resident Tara Scioli stopped by Tuesday to buy a tree and promote some Christmas spirit in her neighborhood.
Scioli said her block usually goes all out on decorations and has contests every year, but the storm really damaged the area.
“I want to bring some cheer,” she said. “When I see what I like, I’ll get it.”
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