Monday, December 13, 1999

Holiday tree
sales seem brisk
this year

Once a mom and pop business,
tree-selling is seeing big box
stores enter in a big way

By Lori Tighe


Customer John Wilbur tried to coax a nice discount out of Christmas tree retailer Rick Laboy, selling trees across from the Blaisdell Center.

But Santa Claus, Laboy was not.

He told Wilbur he couldn't budge from the usual 10 percent discount. Nearly sold out, Laboy had only 10 trees left.

Christmas tree sales appear brisk this year, but that's because mom-and-pop retailers ordered fewer trees. They seem to be losing the race to big-box warehouses, such as Eagle, Wal-Mart and Home Depot, who sell them in bulk for less.

"We've sold out," said Rod Osaki, assistant manager of Home Depot, which sold the last of its 3,000 trees Saturday afternoon. "Sales have been awesome. Next year, I'm sure we'll plan for more sales."

Home Depot sold Douglas firs for $29 and Noble firs for $38, while they went as high as $250 on the individual lots.

Ole Canamore, an Oregon tree grower who sells only to individual retailers, is close to selling out the trees on his lot at King and Kalakaua.

But only because he brought 84 containers of trees this year -- 20 fewer than last year, he said.

"Sales have been slow for the individuals like me. There's more supermarkets dropping the prices. It sounds like I'm crying," Canamore said, "but I just wish the supermarkets would take care of their trees."

He maintained the bigger retailers let trees dry out. But although Christmas tree mishaps happen every year, so far none have caught on fire, according to the Honolulu Fire Department.

Richard Tajiri, a tree salesman for 24 years who set up at Victoria Ward Center, is selling a tree preservative for the first time this year. Just spray it on and it helps keep the tree green and moist, he said.

Asked what's in it, Tajiri smiled and said, "I don't know. They don't tell us."

Tree sales slowed down for Tajiri over the weekend only because of the rain. Once the storm stopped early Saturday morning, 700 trees had thinned to 200 yesterday.

"We should sell out in a week," Tajiri said. Many of his sales have been by regular customers who have been with him for as long as 20 years.

"People are more into high quality trees, the ones that last," he said.

Laboy, who sells trees on Ward Avenue, said sales have been better than last year because he has fewer to sell.

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