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Recession Can't Touch the Christmas Tree

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One expenditure people aren't willing to give up.

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On a recent Saturday night, upon leaving one bar for another, my group happened upon the local Christmas tree vendor. There are outposts like this all over New York. In my neighborhood alone, there are a half-dozen tree markets open around the clock for 4 weeks, from Thanksgiving to Christmas.

This one happened to be immediately outside our destination. The night watchman selling the trees was in need of a shower and clean clothes. I could think of better locations for selling trees than the sidewalk in front of a bar. I doubt people stumbling into the night would be prime clientele.

However, one of the girls in my group wanted to take home the scrawniest, shortest tree. The vendor mumbled a price - 10 bucks. Even though several people argued with him to lower it to a "recession rate," he wouldn't budge. So we left empty-handed.

I realize now the guy had the right idea. Despite the recession, Christmas trees are one of the few items still selling like they used to. And it's huge business. Last year, Americans bought 31 million natural trees, according to the National Christmas Tree Association. US farmers sold $493 million in Christmas trees last year, the US Department of Agriculture says. I was stunned.

Christmas tree sales are holding steady this year, according to several news checks of growers, sellers, and industry analysts. It's the one item that Americans can't do without, even though they may be downgrading to smaller and cheaper trees.

Rick Dungey, a spokesman for the National Christmas Tree Association, told the Baltimore Sun that it appears "the economy doesn't have any impact on tree sales."

"People who want a tree are going to get a tree. Period," he said. "It's a tradition people aren't willing to give up."

Jeff Owen, who works with tree growers and is based at North Carolina State University's College of Natural Resources, told USA Today: "The year may end up the same or even a little better than last year."

North Carolina sold more than 5 million Christmas trees last year, second only to Oregon, which sold 7 million. Other hotspots are Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. For you tree buffs, the top sellers are Fraser Fir (for its needles and scent), followed by Balsam and Douglas Fir. The best trees -- the first-round draft picks, if you will -- take 7 years to grow to a height of 6 feet.

Even fake trees -- though those in the business prefer to call them artificial -- are selling too, says Thomas Harman, the director of the American Christmas Tree Association, which represents the artificial-tree industry. (Yes, it has its own lobby.) Harman says his own business in California is selling as many trees as last year. He estimates Americans buy 10 million artificial trees annually.

Given the poor retail spending numbers reported last week, there should be fewer presents at Christmas. But at least there'll be a tree above them.
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