Wednesday, April 23, 2014

BY CAROLYN LUCAS-ZENK

WEST HAWAII TODAY

clucas-zenk@westhawaiitoday.com

Waikoloa resident Haunani Tamashiro held a 3-foot Noble fir upright for her 2-year-old daughter Zoey, who recently surveyed it critically.

Zoey looked back and forth between this tree and the ones held up by employees at Home Depot in Kailua-Kona. After picking out her favorite just minutes earlier, the toddler was selecting another for her cousin -- a task she couldn't stop smiling about.

"We wanted to do this for her, our baby," Tamashiro said. "By searching for and picking out the perfect Christmas tree we're creating fun, happy memories as a family. Getting a fake tree is just not the same. There's no smell, touching of the needles or excitement."

About 25 million to 30 million Christmas trees are sold annually nationwide. Top tree-producing states are Oregon, North Carolina, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Washington. For each tree harvested, up to three seedlings are planted in its place the following spring. It can take as many as 15 years for a tree to mature to a retail sale height of 6 to 7 feet, according to the National Christmas Tree Association.

But the fakes are expected to be popular, with approximately 50 million artificial trees anticipated to grace living rooms and other spaces this year, according to industry trade groups.

Those in pursuit of pine or palm perfection have several places to select from in West Hawaii. Sellers said sales remain strong because of the cherished traditions that include choosing and decorating this Christmas icon.

Sales have been "great" at Kmart in Kailua-Kona, where real trees are still proving to be strong sellers and the artificial ones have grown in popularity, said store manager Robert O'Meara.

Kmart started selling live Douglas and Noble firs from Oregon for $35 to $59 just before Thanksgiving. O'Meara was confident his store would sell out.

Artificial trees at Kmart are being sold for $30 to $200. The most popular fake is a flocked Christmas tree with lights. The allure of an artificial tree is obvious: no repeat annual purchase, totally reusable, dependably lush and symmetrical, as well as mess- and maintenance-free, O'Meara said.

Real trees, in contrast, have that "good pine smell, nostalgia, tradition and are 100 percent recyclable," he added.

Kailua-Kona resident Marie Twibell's criteria for the perfect tree consists of three standards: it must be green, should smell good and be nicely shaped. However, Twibell clarified the last point, saying she's "not against something with character."

There's tremendous demand for live trees, reportedly being purchased earlier than usual, and Home Depot in Kailua-Kona expects to sell out as it does annually. The store also has various artificial trees, selling for $32.96 to $329, said specialty manager Kimo Schuwer.

The store ordered four containers of Noble, Douglas and Nordmann firs from Oregon, amounting to 4,200 trees, said Robert Richie, assistant store manager.

The first container is empty and the trees from the second container are anticipated to be gone by the week's end. The daily rush is between 4 and 8 p.m., Schuwer said.

Prices for live trees are $21.98 to $79.98. Known for having one of the best aromas, the Douglas fir holds blue to dark green and has that iconic conical shape. Nordmann firs are popular for their waxy needles, full appearance, no fragrance, and being good for people with allergies to other Christmas tree types. With its long, bluish-green needles and silvery appearance, the Noble fir is more sturdy, stiff and great for heavy ornaments, Schuwer said.

Though grown up, brothers Ray and Mark Babauta searched for a tree with their mother, Mona, like they've done for more than a decade. The Kona family found the right one, a 7-foot Noble fir, at Home Depot.

"Every year, mom picks the tree and we decorate it. She tells us exactly where everything goes and we enjoy every moment of this tradition," Ray said. "Bringing home a tree definitely puts you in the Christmas spirit."

"It brings us back as a unit," Mark added.

Mona said she has purchased real trees ever since her boys were about 5-years-old, and they knew the difference between artificial and live trees. She loves the scent and "the nice feeling of a real tree." As a girl, Mona said her family couldn't afford real trees, which is why she cherishes them so much.

Sales of artificial trees, ranging from $20 to $350, at Target in Kailua-Kona have been "really great." From now through the weekend and typically the next is the busiest for Christmas tree shopping and other decorations, said Roger Thomas, the store's team leader.

Thomas said plastic pines are preferred for "their features of convenience," such as built-in lights, easy collapsibility, and their tall, but narrow builds. Target had a large selection of fakes, including pre-lit, palm, pine, fir, frosted, tinsel, colored, slim and bushy.

The fakes are "a perfectionist's dream" because a person can have a tree exactly the way one wants unlike the real thing where "you got what you got," Thomas said.

While shopping at Target, Waikoloa resident Jodi Anderson explained her reasoning for purchasing an artificial tree last year for about $30.

"The tree is just a place for ornaments. I'm going to put every ornament I have on it so it doesn't matter if it's artificial or real. You're not going to see it," she said. "Also, real trees, unfortunately, die so fast here. I need my tree to last for the whole month. By purchasing a fake tree that will last three to four years or longer, I can spend money on everything else."

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