Ten years ago the lot on Dean Martin Drive just north of South Point Casino was filled with hundreds of Christmas trees for sale.
This year McKee Ranch Foundation President Max McKee said it’s not worth the money to sell any.
“I mean, I might have made $20 off a tree — less than that for smaller ones,” McKee said. “I’m 63 years old now, and it’s a lot of work to do trees. They don’t just stand there and sell themselves. You’ve got to clean and prep them — the whole nine yards.”
Christmas trees are getting more expensive to buy and sell due to a tighter supply of the season’s signature evergreen. Many retailers in the Las Vegas Valley have had to increase prices, while others like McKee Ranch opted to stop selling them altogether.
The average price of a farm-grown tree spiked three years ago from $50.82 in 2015 to $74.70 in 2016. Last year the average price was $78, up 4 percent, or $3, from the previous year, according to the National Christmas Tree Association.
Las Vegas Valley resident Angela Scott said she noticed the price jump last year.
“I live near South Point, so we went to the lots out there and they quoted me $150 for a small tree, not even a big one,” she said. “We ended up spending around $100 (this year at Moon Valley Nurseries on South Eastern Avenue), which I thought was still kind of expensive.”
Jeff Muniz waited with his wife and children Wednesday evening as his tree was being prepped at Rudolph’s Christmas Trees on South Rampart Boulevard, where he visits every year.
Price tags for noble fir trees varied from around $140 for a 7-foot tree to nearly $3,300 for a massive 17-foot one.
Muniz noticed prices were slightly higher than in previous years, estimating by around $10 or $20.
Nationally, prices are going up 2 to 4 percent, according to National Christmas Tree Association seasonal spokesman Doug Hundley.
“It’s very possible that prices in Vegas will be anywhere from 10 to even maybe 20 percent higher,” he said.
Chal Landgren, a Christmas tree specialist at Oregon State University, said the lower supply of trees is due to fewer growers, at least in Oregon, following the 2008 recession. Oregon is the largest producer of trees in the country and where many lots in Las Vegas likely source their evergreens.
“We probably had somewhere around 800 or 900 growers 10 years ago, and now we’re down to like 350,” Landgren said. “It takes 10 years to grow a (Christmas) tree, so this is going to be a trend for the next four or five years.”
‘Point of insanity’
Rudolph’s President John Rubbico operates five lots in the Las Vegas Valley and has been selling Christmas trees for 26 years.
He said the last three years have been especially tough on seasonal lots like his.
Most farms have commitment orders with retailers to supply a certain number of trees. If supply is low, then independent owners must battle for the remaining stock and are often forced to pay more. Like McKee, he’s also heard of lots closing their doors this year.
“It’s getting almost to the point of insanity … where the business model doesn’t work anymore,” he said. “We have lights. We have generators. We have property, tents, land, labor, shipping, trucking. We have all these things (expenses) that the big box stores don’t have.”
Rubbico said his business is largely sustained by commercial clients, such as casinos, along with shoppers who are willing to spend big bucks on trees over 10 feet tall.
“If we go into a recession, everybody in the Christmas tree business is going to be out of business,” he said. “That customer we need that spends an extra $125 will not be there. They’re going to dry up, and the average guy that’s spending $100 is going to want to spend $50 and we can’t make any money that way. They’re going to go to Home Depot and Lowe’s.”
For Heather Alvarez and her family, Lowe’s became an option after browsing the row of trees at Rudolph’s.
Last year, she said her family did buy their tree at Lowe’s but decided to also check Rubbico’s lot this year.
“At Lowe’s, they’re like $30 and here, they’re like $100,” she said, leaving without a tree shortly after.