Sales were as brisk as the nightly wind earlier this month at the Christmas tree lot at St. James Catholic Church in Falls Church.
It was after sundown and dark, but strings of lights twinkled over rows of trees. Boy Scouts from Troop 681 rushed to greet arriving customers in cars which piled in the lot to unload family members to check out Fraser firs.
Scouts and their leaders were all masked up, practicing social distancing like their customers, some whom have been shopping at the lot for decades, they said. Scout leader John Neville said sales were good this year — so much, that it matched all the national news stories about soaring Christmas tree sales.
Sure enough, three days later and the lot was no more. All sold out.
The story was the same at tree lots at Idylwood Presbyterian Church and Trinity United Methodist Church where all that remained were straggly limbs and two “Charlie Browns,” as one Boy Scout called the leftovers at Trinity.
On their last sale day there, Troop 869 swept up the pine needles in the parking lot and got ready to go home. The church’s youth group and the scouts share responsibilities for tree sales, according to the church and scout liaison, John Dunn. Tree proceeds send the boys to camps, buy equipment and the youth group sponsors an orphanage in Honduras.
On the day after Thanksgiving the troop sold twice as many as they sold on the same day last year. “It was our busiest day ever,” Dunn beamed. They sold 65 trees.
“As best as I can track it down,” he said, “it’s been about 60 years” that Troop 869 has been selling trees at Trinity.
George Marshall’s High School Boosters were experiencing the same mad rush, according to Michele Crone, the leader of the school’s fundraiser for six years.
Fairfax County Public Schools prohibited fundraising on school property this year (Covid’s such a grinch), and Idylwood Presbyterian stepped up to volunteer its grassy lot to the Boosters. They only received half the trees they usually order because the Pennsylvania supplier didn’t have enough, Crone explained, which, coincidentally, fit the church’s smaller lot just fine.
“We sold 88 trees the first day, and that’s a lot,” Crone said. “People aren’t traveling. They’re staying at home and decorating.”
The Boosters sold out in eight days and closed two weeks early. The school’s athletic teams unload the trees, build the lot, staff it and take it down. Proceeds are used to buy and replace equipment.
Crone credited the community for its support: “We couldn’t do any of this without them. This offers the kids the opportunity to be athletically involved with the school.”
At St. James, Neville’s words were practically the same, expressing how grateful he was for the people who’ve been patronizing this lot for a long time since it helps them send the boys to camp.
“It’s great that these guys do this every year,” Richard Weinstein from Falls Church said after wrapping up his yearly trip to St. James for a tree. “I hope it’s a good fundraiser for them. That’s wonderful [they use the money to go to camp]. It’s nice to buy where we know we’re making a contribution to a local organization.”
A national report said one of every four tree shoppers has an artificial tree at home, but this year is different. Something natural is desired and real trees help meet that need. Falls Church resident Laura Hodges and her family stopped by St. James after visiting another tree lot she termed “a disaster.”
Her family has an artificial tree at home but “it’s not the main one. We always buy a real one. Fraser firs are our favorite by far. We never diverge from them. They are so crisp. This is a great time to come with your family.”
Indeed, in this time of Covid, buying a Christmas tree is a fun outdoor event to celebrate with loved ones. The National Christmas Tree Association reports huge numbers have turned out this year at orchards and pumpkin farms to enjoy the outside, nature, greens, fresh air, exercise, and being with each other.
At the Four Seasons Flower Market in McLean, Oscar Rivas, the manager, chatted about Christmas tree sales while he fielded questions from customers.
He’s been at the lot five years and this is the busiest year ever. Echoing Crone from Marshall High, he attributed zooming sales to people staying home and not traveling,
“They want to decorate their homes. People want to celebrate and be happy because it’s been a rough year for everyone.”
Although the lot was filled with trees, Rivas expected them to all sell by day’s end, but another shipment from North Carolina was due. “We’re open until Christmas Eve, and we sell trees even after Christmas,” he said.
The “seasonal spokesperson” for the NCTA, Doug Hundley, said there’s no need to worry about enough trees since “we’ve got plenty.”
His North Carolina twang is appropriate considering that his state and Oregon supply half the trees sold in the U.S. Hundley thinks 30 million real Christmas trees will sell this year, big sales “no doubt because of the pandemic.”
“It’s a silver lining in a way,” he said in a phone interview. “People being stuck at home and being sheltered the way they are. They may have more time to keep a fresh tree watered and to enjoy it more than they have in the past. They obviously need an uplift after the tough summer and fall. We are glad to be a source of solace and uplift.”
Wherever shoppers go, Hundley said, selling trees is a job employees love because buyers are happy and always in good moods, confirmed by two St. James troop members.
One, far wiser than his teen years, noted “during this huge pandemic, it’s pretty good that a lot more people are buying Christmas trees now. I guess that means that more people are celebrating Christmas. More people are a little more enthusiastic about it despite all the things that are going on.”
His buddy piped up: “It’s really fun selling Christmas trees to very nice people.”