Supply shortage threatens nationwide Christmas tree inventory 

Erika Lee Sengstack, owner of Tree Riders NYC, trims branches to make a decorative Christmas wreath at the shop’s location on the corner of 2nd Avenue and 10th Street on Thursday, Dec. 9 in East Village, Manhattan. Photo by Julia Bonavita

The faint sounds of Christmas music, chopping wood and customers haggling over the price of their annual Christmas tree purchase  could be heard  in front of  St. Mark’s Church in the East Village recently.

Tree Riders NYC, a local Christmas tree shop, is open for business with their colorful string lights carving a path for pedestrians through their inventory of fir trees. The shops’ homemade, wooden storefront invites onlookers to stop, but eager holiday shoppers are greeted by the sticker shock of rising tree prices threatening to dampen the season. 

But this year like so much of the goods consumers want and need, Christmas tree prices have soared.

The recent increase of supply chain issues driven by the Covid-19 pandemic looms over buyers and sellers, threatening the availability of trees.  

“We had to go above and beyond,” said owner Erika Lee Sengstack.  “I’d say about five times more work than we usually do just to find trees, which is a huge amount of effort for us. For the first time in five years, we had to raise our prices.”

Tree Riders NYC has increased their prices by 25% to compensate for the rising cost of lumber, inventory and generic decorations for the business, while remaining in-step with heightened demand and fair pay for staff.

Last year they sold out of trees, and this year may be no different. 

Shoppers choose their Christmas tree from Tree Riders NYC, a local Christmas tree store located outside St. Mark’s Church on Thursday, Dec. 9 in East Village, Manhattan.Photo by Julia Bonavita

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, approximately 13.9 million Christmas trees will be sold this year – a notable 400,000 increase from 2020. 

“I think there was a big demand because people were hungry for some sort of normalcy, and a lot of people were home for the holidays that wouldn’t have been home otherwise, Sengstack said. “So this year, we planned for about the same amount of business as last year and we’re seeing some pretty similar patterns. People are definitely out -buying trees this year.”

According to a report by the Associated Press, the cost of trees is 10-30% higher this holiday season. The rise in prices is also the result of the 2008 recession and a record-level of demand for live trees.During the recession, fewer households were purchasing live trees and tree farms were experiencing a loss in employment, resulting in smaller crop sizes. Since fir trees take approximately 10 years to grow, tree farms are now experiencing the results of harvesting less trees, making it harder for Sengstack to acquire inventory. 

In past years, Sengstack and her team would make an annual trip to North Carolina with 26-foot trucks, load the trees and drive them to Brooklyn. The trees would then be trimmed and taken to Manhattan

 “We got trees this year from upstate and the Vermont area,” she said. “Those were trees that we hadn’t gotten before, we had to piece together our order because we couldn’t get them off of one farmer.”.

She also acquired trees from Pennsylvania. Sengstack has also experienced difficulties purchasing tree stands for her store, since the plastic resin needed for the stands is in short supply. 

“We’ve had a shortage of resin to make the stands the tree stands,” said Sengstack. “There’s an international stand company called Cinco Plastics. But we had a hard time securing the number of stands that we needed, because [Cinco] wasn’t able to make them because they couldn’t even get the plastic supply shipped to them.”

Tree stands, manufactured by Cinco Plastics Inc., are sold alongside trees at Tree Riders NYC on Thursday, Dec. 9 in East Village, Manhattan. Due to the supply chain shortage, resin used to manufacture the stands is limited, leaving shops like Tree Riders NYC with low inventory. Photo by Julia Bonavita

The dramatic price increase has forced consumers to seek other ways to inject trees into their holiday season. 

“We have a real tree that we cut from our yard,” said Angela Rawdon, a thrift store assistant manager from Ava, N.Y. “It’s the size of my two-year-old son. We had to put off getting a full-sized tree until next year because they’re so expensive.” 

Others are just using fake trees, enticed by the glossy, plastic perfection that could only be man made and the promise of an easy annual assembly – no rooftop ties required. 

“It’s just the ease of it,” Katie Chin, a Los Angeles native currently living in Stanford, Connecticut. “You just get to store it, you don’t have to worry about tossing it out and buying a new one every year.” 

Despite the rising cost of the holiday season, those who choose to add a Christmas tree to their festivities agree that the memories made are priceless. 

“We were unable to decorate for the last two years, so being able to do it this year has really made my family’s Christmas,” said Rawdon.