One of the first things on Stacy Bentrovato’s holiday shopping list is a Christmas tree to prominently display at her home in Niskayuna.
While others were out braving shopping malls or enjoying leftovers from Thanksgiving on Friday afternoon, Bentrovato was at Kulak’s Nursery, picking out the perfect tree for her living room.
There are advantages to buying a tree early, she explained, like the pleasant pine aroma that fills her house and the notion that she basically gets to pick the best one on the lot.
“I like to get it right away,” she said as nursery workers tethered a nine-foot-tall Fraser fir to her vehicle.
Still, Christmas tree sales can be hit or miss on Black Friday, nursery owner John Kulak said. This year’s balmy weather and the Thanksgiving holiday falling nearly five weeks from Christmas meant tree sales weren’t as brisk as in the past.
But that’s not much of a surprise. Kulak said his largest sales are during the first two weekends in December, when the thought of Christmas is crisper in the minds of his customers than when they’re still recovering from Thanksgiving.
“Black Friday for us isn’t a big selling day,” he said. “Many people are still putting Thanksgiving behind them.”
Paul Sausville agreed. He had a few sales Friday from his modest Christmas tree farm in Malta, but said many of his customers wait until they start seeing more signs of the forthcoming holiday, whether it’s a dusting of snow or a greater number of decorations.
Sausville, who lets his customers cut their own trees, said many will come by after Thanksgiving and tag the tree they want. Very often, they’ll wait a week or two before coming back with the family to grab the tree.
“I don’t think people are quite in the Christmas spirit yet,” he said.
And then some farms stopped selling trees altogether. Richard Hotaling of Majestic Gardens in Richmondville said the Christmas tree business was too financially and physically taxing for him to endeavor this year, so he stopped selling them for the first time in more than two decades.
Hotaling now sells wreaths and handmade holiday decorations from the farm where he once sold upward of 800 trees. With his bad back and fuel prices being high, he figured the profit margin simply wasn’t worth the hassle.
“You’re lucky to make $5 on a tree,” he said.
For others, however, Black Friday signaled a robust start to the Christmas tree season and hopefully a good end to an otherwise decent year in the farming business. Chip Ellms had a customer waiting at the gate to the Ellms Family Farm in Charlton roughly 40 minutes before they were scheduled to open Friday.
“People came out first thing,” he said.
With a dusting of snow, Ellms’ farm would almost epitomize the concept of an idyllic Christmas setting. On Friday, though, none of his customers were complaining about the weather. Ellms said the balmy temperatures gives families more of a chance to enjoy the outdoors. He said the relatively warm weather allowed families to take their time finding the perfect Christmas tree.
“What they really want is a nice warm day to come out and enjoy it,” he said.
Christmas tree sales are an important part of New York’s farming economy. The state ranks among the top 10 producers of Christmas trees in the U.S., second to only Pennsylvania in the Northeast.
The state has also bucked a national trend of people buying fake Christmas trees instead of the natural ones. Mary Jeanne Packer, president of the Christmas Tree Farmers Association of New York, said sales across the state appear to be somewhat connected to the growing relationship between small farmers and consumers.
“Part of it is the connection to the local food movement,” she said, “and a lot of people are feeling a connection to their local farms.”