Christmas tree quest


POSTED: Sunday, December 13, 2009

Four-year-old Kaysha Hoopii looked crestfallen as she and her parents walked away from the Habilitat Christmas tree lot at Aloha Tower at 1 p.m. yesterday.

The last family-sized Christmas tree, a 6-foot Noble fir, had sold just minutes before they arrived. The only trees left were 10-footers that cost $180, out of the Hoopiis' size and price range.

“;We looked all over today,”; said Kaysha's mom, Shari Hoopii. “;We looked everywhere last night. We're still hunting. We don't want an artificial tree.”; The Hoopiis, who live at Schofield Barracks, were especially eager to get a tree this year because “;this is our first Christmas in our own house,”; said Kalani Hoopii, Kaysha's dad.

Families like the Hoopiis racked up miles yesterday on the hunt for Christmas trees. Over the last week, City Mill, Home Depot, Don Quijote and Ala Moana Center sold out. Habilitat Inc., which sells trees as a fundraiser for its alcohol and drug-treatment program, had three lots operating yesterday morning. By mid-afternoon, only wreaths and door ornaments were left. Customers came from as far as Nanakuli on their quest for a tree.

“;We are officially out of Christmas trees,”; Habilitat spokesman George Playdon said yesterday afternoon. “;We do have wreaths and door charms, but as far as trees, there is really nothing left.”;

Six-year-old Kenton Gascon-Oshiro was one lucky customer. He and his father, Kevin, and grandmother, Naomi, had made the rounds of City Mill and Don Quijote and come up empty-handed before they lucked into the last 6-foot Christmas tree on the lot at Habilitat's Aloha Tower site. It had been used as a display, and got pulled down for sale just before they arrived.

“;Christmas came too fast,”; explained Naomi Oshiro, who lives in Kaimuki. “;We didn't realize the trees were gone. The time just slipped away from us.”;

Fortunately, Oahu families have an alternative. While the firs that are shipped in from the Pacific Northwest have largely sold out, Helemano Farms, which grows Norfolk pines on the cool highlands of Wahiawa, still has plenty of trees available. Prices start at $40 for a fresh-cut 6-foot tree.

The family business began planting trees in 2001 and its first official year of sales was in 2006, according to Pat O'Brien, a member of the family. This year has been their best yet.

“;Business is probably a good 30 percent more than last year,”; O'Brien said yesterday morning, as early-bird customers showed up before opening time. “;A lot of it is people wanting to 'go green' and wanting to support the local economy. Some say they saw a tree at a friend's house and liked it. It's word of mouth.”;

The Norfolk pine has decorative branches that show off ornaments well, and they last a long time because they are so fresh, she said. They also have no risk of bringing in alien pests such as insects or slugs that would threaten Hawaii agriculture. But the disadvantage is they aren't fragrant like the popular noble, grand, Douglas and Fraser fir trees brought in from the mainland.

Richard Tajiri, president of Christmas Hawaii, said he is considering bringing in another container from the Pacific Northwest because so many customers are calling. He sold out of trees at his Ala Moana Center lot on Friday.

“;They're calling every five minutes,”; said Tajiri, who has been bringing Christmas trees to Hawaii for 34 years. “;We're trying to see if we can get some more in.”;

If another container got on the ship by Wednesday, Tajiri said, it would arrive in Honolulu next Monday, just four days before Christmas.

It's always tough to gauge demand for Christmas trees, said Charlie Nakama, store manager of City Mill on Nimitz Highway. His company brought in nine containers of trees, each carrying at least 400 trees, but two were sent back when agriculture inspectors found pests.

“;A few years back, there was a shortage of trees so everybody brought in a lot the following year,”; Nakama said. “;And then there were too many trees. For this year, I know I cut back a little, not being certain on how everybody was going to purchase trees. That's why I increased my order for the smaller size. It's easier to spare $40 than $80 or more.”;

“;The inexpensive, smallest trees that we carry, year in and year out, is the fastest mover,”; he said. “;People enjoy the smell. They can survive with the smaller tree.”;