RENO, Nev. — Matt Altemus is used to being busy this time of year. But not like this.
“We got 500 phone calls before we even opened,” says Altemus, manager of Reno Christmas Trees, during an early December phone interview with the NNBW. “We’ve been really busy. This is a rare break in between customers.”
There are a few factors causing the company’s phone to light up.
First off, more people are staying home for the holidays because of COVID-19 cases surging across the country and realizing that, maybe for the first time in years, they have time to water a fresh-cut tree.
Others are simply trying to crank up their holiday cheer to not only make up for canceled parades, festivals and parties across Northern Nevada, but also the cancellation of just about anything they had planned during a challenging 2020.
“Everyone wants to get a Christmas tree early this year,” Altemus said. “Everybody’s feeling stressed, and I think they’re ready for Christmas. I think with the virus and the masks and lockdowns, people are looking for some joy and happiness in their house.”
Reno Christmas Trees has operated seasonally since 2006, selling trees from its main lot at the corner of Kietzke Lane and South Virginia Street. The company used to operate a second lot in Minden, but that location closed in recent years due to a lack of tree supply, Altemus said.
This year, since opening its Reno location the day before Thanksgiving, the company has seen its Noble firs fly off the lot and strapped onto cars like clockwork — to the tune of a 40% increase in business compared to 2019 as of early December, Altemus said.
“They’re going to sell out fast this year,” said Altemus, who brings down between 600 and 800 trees a year from a 150-acre tree farm, A Christmas Tree Heaven, in Oakridge, Oregon, to sell in Reno. “A lot of our customers have never had a real tree before — they’re tired of the fake tree. People want a real tree, they’re fighting for one this year.”
The rise in real Christmas tree seekers extends far beyond Northern Nevada. According to the Christmas Tree Promotion Board, people who put up an artificial tree last year plan to buy a real one this year, and most are citing the pandemic as the reason.
To meet the demand, big box stores like Walmart, Home Depot and Lowe’s are even delivering fresh trees to people’s doorsteps.
The growing interest in the real thing comes as the industry struggles to attract new customers as more Americans opt for artificial trees.
For example, the $1 billion market for fake trees has grown by about 4% a year, with about 80% of U.S. citizens who have a Christmas tree now owning an artificial one, according to the American Christmas Tree Association (ACTA).
Meanwhile, there are roughly 25-30 million real Christmas trees sold across the country every year, according to the National Christmas Tree Association (which, yes, is a different tree group than the aforementioned ACTA).
And if Reno Christmas Trees’ early-season demand is any indication, that number is bound to jump in 2020.
“People try fake trees, but then they get spider webs and they don’t smell good,” Altemus said. “It’s just more of a real Christmas with a real tree.”
Along with buying fresh-cut trees to light up inside their homes, people are also splurging on decorations to amplify outdoor holiday spirit this season.
For holiday decorating company Christmas Decor by Signature Landscapes in Reno, inquiries for light and display installations began rolling in back in early October, nearly a month earlier than usual, said branch manager Aurora Marin.
“Normally, people wait till really close to Halloween or right after Halloween for those requests,” Marin told the NNBW. “We definitely saw an earlier push for requests. And that volume of requests that we got in that normal period right around Halloween was probably 30% higher than normal.”
Overall, Marin said Christmas Decor has seen a 20% increase in business compared with last year, with crews scattering across the greater Reno-Carson-Tahoe region to meet the surging demand.
Installations, she said, began on Oct. 19, and each of the company’s four install crews have been averaging two and a half jobs per day.
Marin said costs for holiday lighting installations range from about $300 to thousands of dollars, adding: “We do the Atlantis (Casino in Reno),” among other major decorations.
Much like the rise in real Christmas trees, the boost in holiday lighting and display spending exemplifies what many are searching for in the age of COVID-19: a little light in a dark year.
“Because people are having to stay at home, I think that they’re still trying to experience a little bit of normalcy,” Marin said. “And if Christmas lights does it for them, we’re more than willing to help. People in the past that had not considered spending to have Christmas lights installed on their home are now spending on it.”