More Christmas trees on way
• Photo gallery: Christmas trees
By Eloise Aguiar
Advertiser Staff Writer
A combination of a jittery economy and strict dockside inspections has resulted in a shortage of Christmas trees in Hawai'i, but a last-minute air shipment and local growers will ease some of that shortfall.
On O'ahu, vendors began running out of Christmas trees last week.
The shortage is said to stem from vendors ordering conservatively and state Department of Agriculture inspectors turning back seven containers of the evergreens because of pests.
The Islands seem to go through cycles when it comes to Christmas trees, a vendor said.
One year there will be a glut of trees, followed by a year of just enough, then a shortage, said Ipo Waiwaiole, who sells trees near Castle Medical Center in Kailua but ran out on Dec. 12.
"This cycle was pretty extreme," Waiwaiole said. "I seen something like this maybe five years ago when everybody ran out by the 13th."
Waiwaiole said the cost of shipping prompted him to cut back his order for trees by one container, about 300 trees. His sister did as well, he said. He has been cutting back for several years and said other vendors he's talked to have done the same.
It costs about $20 per tree to bring them in by ship, so vendors don't want to get stuck with a surplus, he said.
Renee Greenwood of Hawai'i Kai was caught off-guard by the shortage. Yesterday she tried several locations, from Hawai'i Kai to Kapi'olani Boulevard before seeing a sign and stopping at Richard Tajiri Christmas Hawaii at Ala Moana Center.
"I'm just driving around looking everywhere and I'm not seeing trees anywhere," Greenwood said. "I think I recall when trees first came they sent one (container) back because it was infested, but I didn't hear there was a shortage."
The state Department of Agriculture rejected seven containers of Christmas trees out of 207 that arrived in the Islands because of slugs or other insects, said department spokeswoman Janelle Saneishi.
A total of 111,000 trees were delivered this year, she said. However, last year 250 containers came in and in previous years there have been 300 containers, she said.
Tajiri is bringing in about 600 trees tomorrow and will sell them beginning at 3 p.m. on a first-come, first-served basis.
Tree vendors were doing well up until the 10th and 11th of December, business owner Richard Tajiri said.
"Then all of a sudden on the 12th we found out the whole island was dry," Tajiri said, adding that his Maui outlet was also sold out and that he had a few more trees on the Big Island.
Residents have other options: the Norfolk pine trees grown at Helemano Farms in Whitmore Village in Wahiawä or Yamashita Nursery in Waimänalo.
Aaron O'Brien, owner of Helemano Farms, said business has picked up since the weekend.
"Monday we usually do 20 to 30 sales and we did 90 (on Monday)," O'Brien said. "We open at noon but there's people here at 11 a.m. buying trees right now."
Helemano has Norfolk trees and the Leland cyprus, cut and in pots, starting at $40.
At Yamashita Nursery, residents can buy live trees to decorate for Christmas for about $45, owner Norman Yamashita said. The nursery puts out about 130 to 140 potted trees a year and has about 40 left.
"We're the only ones that grow them live," he said.