Even tough economic times fail to play Scrooge on Christmas tree sales
Santa Claus’ elves may still be working at a frantic pace filling last-minute toy orders in the North Pole, but Kris Kringle’s helpers in Ozaukee County have already weathered their busiest time of the year.
Despite the sour economy, it has been a booming market for Christmas trees, with two of the county’s favorite tree lots logging strong sales.
The lot operated by volunteers from First Congregational Church in Port Washington is already out of trees. Four hundred trees were delivered to the lot on North Webster Street in November.
In its 24th season, church lot organizers are calling this a record year for profits.
Ernie Hadler of Saukville, who supervises the lot with Bob Eichner of Port Washington, said just six trees were left when sales were cut off last week.
“It was the best year ever,” Hadler said.
That success translates into good news for the congregation, since the tree sale is church’s largest fund-raising venture.
Last year, the church boosted its tree order from 300 to 400. The evergreens are hauled in from the Neenah-Menasha area.
“When you end up selling all but six, that is pretty good,” Hadler said.
“The weather wasn’t always the best, but people kept coming. We only lost two days of sales because of snow. It was quite a bit worse last winter with all the snow.”
Prices ranged from $25 to $75, with the most popular price point coming in at about $50. The largest tree on the lot was a 13-foot Fraser fir, but Hadler said several 10-foot trees were sold to take places of honor in rooms sporting cathedral ceilings.
“We get a lot of people who keep coming back. They’ll say, ‘We’ll be back next year,’ and a lot of them really do come back,” he said.
Tradition plays a big part in tree sales, he said.
“A lot of people make a point of stopping at the lot on Black Friday to start the season right. They’ll get up and go shopping at the stores at 5 a.m., then pick up a tree on their way home,” Hadler said.
The busiest day at the lot was Sunday, Dec. 6, when 84 trees were sold — a one-day record.
Hadler said he has been helping at the church lot for the past 10 years, but now finds he has to provide less face time because of help from 4-H members and other community groups.
“I still have to put in my time, though. Someone has to be there,” he said.
Business has been brisk at the two tree lots operated by the Schaut brothers, on Highway 57 south of Fredonia and on Port Washington Road in Mequon.
On Monday, the stock was being consolidated at the Highway 57 lot, with only about two dozen trees left.
“We started the season with 540 trees, but we sell out every year. People are very loyal. The economy doesn’t seem to affect sales,” Jeff Schaut said.
Prices ranged from $20 to $120, with most people interested in Fraser or balsam firs, and a few white pines.
An occasional buyer is likely to pull into the lot during Christmas week, but if any trees are left they will be given to landowners who want to provide ground cover for pheasants or other wildlife.
“Nothing is wasted,” Schaut said.
The trees are harvested from a farm in the Crivitz area, with each one hand-selected by the family.
“We go around and put tags on the trees we want. That is the difference between us and places like Stein’s or Home Depot that get large shipments of trees but don’t really care what they look like,” Schaut said.
The family has operated the Highway 57 lot since 1998, and expanded into Mequon six years ago.
“Sales are pretty evenly divided between the two locations,” Schaut said.
Those sales are supplemented by handmade wreaths and holiday decorations sold out of a gift shop in the barn on the Highway 57 site.
The tree business is complicated by the fact that the family also runs a snow-plowing business. Considering Wisconsin winters, that means the busiest seasons for both ventures almost always overlap.
“I still like this time of year, but I mostly like it after all the trees are sold,” Schaut said.
LOCAL TREE LOTS are all but bare, reflecting another good year for Christmas tree sales in Ozaukee County. Top photo, Ernie Hadler displayed a Christmas wreath at the lot operated by First Congregational Church in Port Washington. The lot sold out of trees last week. Lower photo, Jeff Schaut wrestled with a fir tree on the lot his family operates off Highway 57, south of Fredonia. Photos by Sam Arendt