Apparently, the jobless recovery isn't hurting the Christmas tree market.
EUGENE — A dreary Tuesday afternoon 10 days before Christmas probably isn't the best moment to measure the health of the retail Tannenbaum market, least of all at a newly established lot in a still developing part of town.
That's why Tony Stroda looked at his lackluster sales day, on a parcel of land just outside Crescent Village, with a healthy appreciation for the silver lining. He had only hawked two trees by late afternoon, but total sales for the season so far have still been a little better than they were in 2008. And, thanks to the giant red-and-white striped tent he rented, both Stroda's product and his person were bone-dry.
Things could be worse, in other words.
"There's nothing more miserable on a day like today than sitting in your rain gear huddled up like an old sheep," he said against a backdrop of 50 noble, Douglas, grand fir and Frasier Christmas trees.
Overall, Stroda is anticipating between a 12 and 15 percent profit margin this year, after a break-even 2008, the first year he and his siblings of Monroe's Stroda Bros. Farm decided to add the Crescent location to their offerings.
"For a new lot, that's about what we hope for," he said.
Apparently, the jobless recovery isn't hurting the Christmas tree market. The New York research firm ISI group reported nationwide sales the week after Thanksgiving were up 6 percent over the same period the year before, a trend local tree farmers say they're seeing here.
Arlene Madsen, owner of Madsen Tree Farms on Clear Lake Road, said she anticipated that people would continue to buy Christmas trees but hold back on extras, such as centerpieces and wreaths.
Madsen was wrong about the wreaths, to her delight. She shrewdly decorates them in ribbons and roses that match the colors of the Oregon Ducks.
But she only ordered enough material to make about the same number of wreaths as last year, when sales were down.
Thanks to the University of Oregon football team's Rose Bowl berth, "We had to double our order," Madsen said. "I'm down to one duck bow and I have no more green ribbon. Our standard answer is 'You should have come a little earlier.'"
Robert Hladky said this year's sales are up over last year's at his Pleasant Hill farm, which had taken a hit because of the economy. But he was fairly confident in his return customers, he said.
"I've been in business for over 40 years," Hladky said. "They know they can get a good tree, and that we have 10,000 or 12,000 to choose from."
Tuesday was also a slow day for Donna Porter at Porter's Yuletide Trees in west Eugene. But she said the season's gone well, so far.
"My customers like my trees because they're more natural," said the 75-year-old, who lowered the prices of her wreaths this year in recognition of the economy. "I hand-trim them, if they need it, and some aren't trimmed at all."
Stroda expects sales to peter out from here until Christmas Day, as people generally want to have a tree up by now, so they have time to decorate.
Some customers wait until the last minute, though, when desperate retailers slash their prices and then make a Christmas Eve occasion out of decorating the tree.
Beyond that, Stroda isn't hearing any particular theme from his customers, he said.
Some tell him they've hacked their tree budget from $100 to $40.
"Others come in and buy three to four trees," he said. "One for every room in the house."