While the sales of traditional fresh-cut Christmas trees was once a booming business, corporate competitors and artificial trees have reduced demand.
Independent tree lot owner Wayne Herman says the 2008 recession prompted the fall of the Christmas tree.
“When we had the recession, the big guys did not replant,” Herman said.
Larger farms simply couldn’t afford to plant more trees while still trying to sell those they had already grown, which meant no more trees for a decade.
“It takes about eight years to grow a tree, eight to ten years to replant,” Herman said.
While lot operators waited for their trees and business to grow, larger corporations bought small farms, chopping independent competitors' business down to a fraction of its original size.
“That number has dwindled to where were down to, oh, 400 trees a year, where I used to do 2,500,” Herman said.
Big businesses aren’t the only competitor wild trees face. The increase in sales of artificial tree has also threatened wild tree lots to the point of extinction.
“The artificial has really cut into the real tree market...the artificial tree as you see in the stores has come out now. They have a tree that looks as good as these,” Herman said.
In a matter of years, independently owned tree lots, like Herman’s, could be the last of their kind. “It’s a dying business,” Herman said.
But there are still true "Christmas tree huggers" out there. “The people I have left are the die-hards, the ones that say, 'I will not buy an artificial tree,'” Herman said.
Those true to the tree tradition see the value of an owner who gives the whole lot.
“I make the effort to make sure they’re cut late and they’re fresh when they get ‘em...I’ve had to adjust to be willing to take less money and continue to do it because of these people come in and say thank you for coming, you know? I mean they’re grateful that you even come,” Herman said.
While Herman plans to retire in a year or two, he plans to pass on his lot so Great Falls can continue to have access to great trees.
“We need to have trees here in Great Falls because as you can see there isn’t a lot,” Herman said.
Wayne Herman’s Trees is located on 10th Ave South in the parking lot next to Fuddruckers. You can reach him at 406-531-9009.
The Great Falls Uptown Optimist Club is also selling Christmas trees at the Montana ExpoPark; click here for more details .