As soon as Thanksgiving peeks its head around the corner, Jones Family Farms in Shelton, Connecticut opens its barn doors for groups looking for the perfect Christmas tree.
With over 200 acres dedicated to the evergreens — 120 acres of which customers can cut their own — there’s plenty to select from. The farm sells 12,000 trees on average each year. But, 2020 is a year unlike any other, and sales are booming. Trees, decor, and wreaths are seeing a 10 to 15 percent increase in sales.
"We might have sold close to 1,000 trees that first weekend," said farmer Terry Jones. "And so, come now mid-December (when I was a child when the season was just beginning) we’re really on the back end of it."
It’s a phenomenon being observed across the entire live Christmas tree industry: People in 2020 just can’t get enough of holiday decor.
"We get away from our roots, I think when we get too busy," National Christmas Tree Association spokesperson Doug Hundley said. "Perhaps this year COVID has slowed us all down a bit, as well as the stress. It’s made us think about quality, maybe more than quantity."
Across the country, consumers are still shopping this holiday season, despite layoffs and business closures. The National Retail Federation and Prosper Insights & Analytics found people were looking to spend an average $997.79 on gifts, holiday items such as decorations, and additional "non-gift" purchases for themselves and their families in 2020. Though it’s a slight decline from last year’s $1,048, it is actually the budgets for gifts and other non-gift purchases that have gone down. Spending on holiday decor is expected to increase.
About 26.2 million live trees were sold last holiday season to the tune of $2 billion, per the NCTA. This year, it is expecting near 30 million trees to be sold, based on projections made at the beginning of 2020. But because of the coronavirus and the need to nest, numbers could be higher.
"[We’ve had] a steady little increase in real tree sales for the last four or five years," Hundley said. "So we weren’t surprised it was going to be good this year. This seems special though."
Even city pop-up tree vendors are observing more tree seekers. Sales are up about 18 percent compared to last year for Kevin’s Tree Lots, which has locations in Edgewater and Jersey City, New Jersey. Requests for contactless home delivery and setup are up 150 percent.
"A lot of people thought about Christmas, the holiday season, and they just couldn’t wait to get a tree," Kevin’s Tree Lots owner Kevin Murray said.
Though the final figures won’t be in until January, many businesses are anecdotally saying many of their trees are going to people new to the live tree market.
"Especially this year, we got a lot of first-time buyers not really knowing what they’re looking for," Kevin’s Tree Lot manager Lewis Tolentino said. "But that’s what we’re here to do, help them out."
Part of the reason is that the live tree sales experience often occurs outdoors, making it a safer family outing at this time, points out Jones Family Farms hospitality operations lead Christiana Jones. In addition to Christmas trees, the farm offers many pick-your-own experiences throughout the year, including strawberries and pumpkins. It also has an on-site winery, as well as cooking classes for groups. The farms rededicated itself to family experiences after the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy, which occurred just 15 miles away from the farms.
"Our family, because of that, really decided that we were going to reintensify our efforts to have a space that is wonderful and meaningful and always safe for families," Jones said.
The need for a safe outdoor space became especially apparent this July when the farm started noticing grandparents and grandchildren seeing each other for the first time since the beginning of the pandemic to pick berries. They continued to welcome family gatherings to pick out trees this season.
"It's a very wholesome outdoor activity which, if anything, has really exploded with the COVID this year," said Terry Jones, the fifth-generation family member to work the farm according to its website. "People just want to get out and see nature."
Just having a tree can also bring happiness during this time of year, Murray pointed out. While it’s not a farm, Kevin’s Tree Lots tries to bring yuletide cheer by having photo opportunities for customers, whether it's posing on straw bales near decorated trees or through seasonally-themed photo stand-ins. Perhaps the best part is people can take those feelings of comfort home with them with a live tree.
"They wake up every day, and they see their tree and they’re happy," Murray said. "They have their coffee and they look at it. And that’s probably it. The trees bring a lot of joy into the home, and 2020, we needed some of that this year."