ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Last-minute shopping doesn’t always happen at the store.
Santa had probably already packed his sleigh by the time Jim Stanek and his 7-year-old son, James, ventured out to a roadside lot to buy a Christmas tree Tuesday morning, but the late-starting pair were undaunted by the limited selection awaiting them.
“I truly believe, regardless of how it goes, I think (it’s about) the Christmas spirit,” Stanek said after pulling up to the Chile Traditions lot near Montgomery and Wyoming NE. “My amazing son here … is going to pick the best tree we can find.”
That the Staneks found a shapely $40 Noble fir — let alone an open tree lot — was something of a holiday miracle. Though some remained standing Tuesday, many lots already had packed up for the season. In some cases, that’s because they had nothing left to sell.
The Delancey Street Foundation — which operated five lots around New Mexico, including locations at Winrock and Cottonwood malls in Albuquerque — ran through its entire 4,500-plus tree inventory by Monday.
“Business was excellent (this year),” said Pete Whistler, who works at Delancey Street’s ranch at Ohkay-Owingeh Pueblo. “We actually should’ve had a little bit more trees, but the response was over the top.”
Tabitha Chavez, running one of her father’s two lots along North Fourth Street, reported that her family also had a solid year.
“I know in one day, they made what they put into the lot — plus,” Chavez said Tuesday.
At the peak of the season, Chavez said the Mora-grown trees were going for an average of $8-10 per foot.
Americans spend about $1 billion annually on fresh, farm-grown Christmas trees, according to the National Christmas Tree Association. And while chain stores have begun flooding the market — accounting for 33 percent of sales in 2013 compared to 23 percent in 2007, according to NCTA polling —David Salazar at Chile Traditions said customers keep coming back to the roadside Albuquerque stand, where prices have remained steady at about $9 per foot for the last several years, and business has too.
“I’ve seen a couple of ups and downs,” Salazar said of his 10 years working the lot. “(But) to be honest, the last three, four years have been pretty consistent.”
And Chile Traditions is not ready to stop just yet. Salazar had 58 trees left Tuesday morning. He expects to have about 15-20 left today, and to keep selling until about 1:30 p.m. Based on his experience, there will be a small flurry of late activity.
“It’s funny. (For) some families, it’s a tradition to get a last-minute Christmas tree,” he said. “They’ll come in and say ‘What’s the ugliest one you’ve got? That’s a big, huge thing now. Everybody is taking the misfit trees now.”