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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Christmas trees just about all gone

By Lynda Arakawa
Advertiser Staff Writer

O'ahu residents searched — mostly in vain — for Christmas trees at sold-out lots yesterday as at least one vendor considered bringing in more by air.

Workers at the Habilitat Christmas tree lot at Stadium Mall prepare two of the few remaining trees at their site — trees that are being held for prepaid customers. The Habilitat site has already sold all its standard-sized trees. All that was left yesterday were three 2-foot tall trees that were selling for $5 each.

Bruce Asato • The Honolulu Advertiser

"No trees, oh, my goodness," said Niu Valley resident Stella Chang as she surveyed the last few 4-foot Nobles at the Forest Products Christmas tree lot in Market City Shopping Center, the fourth lot she had visited. "This all you have?"

Meanwhile, the phone center at Home Depot in Pearl City was getting "ukubillion" calls from shoppers hunting for the now precious trees, said phone operator Hoku Hauhio. "That's all they ask for," she said. All three O'ahu Home Depot stores were sold out.

Mele Turner, who runs the Forest Products lots at Market City, Koko Marina and Manoa, said he is looking into air freighting more trees.

"I've done it before and when I've done it, it's been more of an accommodation; not as profitable as we're used to," he said. "It's a lot of work."

Every year it seems the Islands are hit by either a Christmas tree shortage or glut. Last year they were selling trees for $1 at Lowe's Home Improvement Warehouse at Waikele Shopping Center. At least some vendors, mindful of that experience, ordered fewer trees this year.

"You never know from year to year," Turner said. "Everybody got stung last year so everybody is naturally going to order less this year. You don't want to get stung again. ... Everybody thinks that they made a killing, but they're making up for their losses last year."

Turner ordered four to five containers last year but wound up with half a container left, said Turner's stepson Tad Dator. This year they ordered three containers.

The Christmas Hawaii tree lot in front of Sears in Ala Moana Center has turned away more than 100 people since it sold out on Friday, said Richard Tajiri, who runs the lot. He said the number of trees he brought in this year is a little less than last year and that he will bring in more next season.

"This year they're really getting into the spirit," Tajiri said. "The economy's up, the war is on, all kinds of things going on. People are really into it this year."

Horizon Lines shipped in a little over 50 containers of trees to Hawai'i this year, about a third less than last year, said government and public affairs manager Ku'uhaku Park. The bulk of the trees arrived in mid- to late-November, with the last two containers coming in last week, he said. Estimates of the number of trees per container vary from 100 to 600, depending on size of tree and other factors.

Most of the roughly 115,000 trees Matson ships to Hawai'i arrived in late November. The final shipment arrived Dec. 5.

Daiei, which is also out of trees, ordered about the same amount as it did last year, said Mel Yogi, Daiei general merchandise buyer. Daiei usually runs out at about this time of year, he said.

Yogi said one factor that might have contributed to an overall shortage is that the trees this year are fuller, so fewer could fit in the containers.

Lowe's Home Improvement Warehouse ran out of trees on Thursday. Star Market in Mo'ili'ili sold out on Saturday.

City Mill stores sold out last weekend, said Kirk Knapp, City Mill's general manager for retail.

"All of ours are basically gone now," he said. "It was a good year. It started kind of slow and picked up speed and sold out by this last weekend."

Les Kekahuna, who runs the Mike Inc. Christmas tree lot near the corner of Ward Avenue and Kapi'olani Boulevard with his friend, said people were coming in from Waialua and La'ie to buy trees. The lot sold out yesterday afternoon, and within the next hour about 100 people had stopped by in vain, he said.

Wai'alae Nui resident Richard Muramoto was one of the lucky people to find a tree yesterday. He and his wife called and visited several stores and lots beginning Sunday before he bought a tree from Mike Inc. yesterday morning.

Reach Lynda Arakawa at larakawa@honoluluadvertiser.com or at 535-2470.