Terry Campbell always waits until the last minute to buy her Christmas tree — she wants it to be healthy, full and fresh for her birthday, Dec. 31.
"The smell of it is just wonderful," she said. "I'm a New Year's Eve baby, and this way it's still up, it's still nice and pretty."
On Sunday, Campbell browsed the dwindling selection of trees at Crocker Produce on Signal Mountain Road, eventually settling on a bushy 5-footer.
"We'll decorate today, tomorrow and Christmas," she said with a laugh. "We finished it on Christmas Day last year."
Crocker Produce owner Lynn Crocker started the holiday season with about 400 trees, but he has only 30 left. He's been selling Christmas trees for three years, and each year the demand goes up, he said. Last year he bought 300 trees and had 13 trees left by Christmas Day.
Although some bargain hunters buy last-minute trees to try to save money, Crocker said he doesn't give end-of-season discounts.
"When you start doing that, people get the mentality that they can come in and get a cheap tree," he said. "That's not fair to the people who bought first."
Jeff Skinner, owner of Custom Landscape and Design on East Brainerd Road, said he'll sometimes give discounts to latecomers. He drove to Virginia to pick up 300 cut trees at the start of the season. By Sunday, he'd sold 280.
"It was just a big gamble," he said. "It's like going to the casino and rolling the dice when you buy trees -- what you have left right now, that's basically your loss."
He put about $7,000 into the initial purchase, not including the cost for trucking, set up, poinsettias and trees that can be replanted. This year, he'll come out ahead.
"We're really happy about that," he said. "You'll hardly ever sell every tree. And we've had years when we've had to throw away a lot of them."
Nationwide, consumers bought 30.8 million real Christmas trees in 2011, as well as 9.5 million artificial trees, according to the National Christmas Tree Association.
How many trees are sold depends on several factors, the NCTA reported, including harvest and weather conditions, the number of consumers traveling for the holidays and even the number of days between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Skinner expects to sell three or four more trees today and be left with only a dozen unsold trees. That's when the fishermen step in.
"The trees will probably end up in the bottom of the Tennessee River somewhere," he said. "The fishermen like to come by and take these out to their fishing holes and then the fish will nest in there."
Skinner only planned to buy 200 trees this year, but got a deal on the extra 100 and decided to go for it.
"We just thought, with this location, with this much traffic, if we put the trees out front and the price is right, we thought we could sell them all," he said.
Shelly Bradbury covers police and crime in Chattanooga and Hamilton County for the Times Free Press. She's been with the paper since 2012, working first as an intern and then as a business reporter. She is from Houghton, New York, and graduated from Huntington University in Huntington, Indiana, with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and minor in management. Before moving to Tennessee, Shelly previously interned with The Goshen News, The Sandusky Register and The Mint ...