Wednesday, June 20 , 2018, 11:47 am | Overcast with Haze 65º



For Tree Sales, Thomas Fire Is the Grinch Who Stole Christmas

With tens of thousands of people evacuated and very unhealthy air quality, Christmas tree lots report far fewer sales than usual this season

Employees prepare a tree for sale at the Anthony’s Christmas Trees lot at Earl Warren Showgrounds in Santa Barbara. The devastation from the out-of-control Thomas Fire is being felt far and wide. Click to view larger
Employees prepare a tree for sale at the Anthony’s Christmas Trees lot at Earl Warren Showgrounds in Santa Barbara. The devastation from the out-of-control Thomas Fire is being felt far and wide. (J.C. Corliss / Noozhawk photo)

The nearly two-week Thomas Fire is hitting all local businesses hard, from restaurants and retailers to offices and hotels.

And during the holidays, there’s another seasonal purchase feeling the pinch: Christmas trees.

Some retailers say sales are down as much as 60 percent.

“We are down about 1,000 Christmas trees,” said Anthony Dal Bello, owner of Anthony’s Christmas Trees at Earl Warren Showgrounds in Santa Barbara.

“People aren’t coming because they are telling them to stay inside the house,” he told Noozhawk. “And then all those people in Montecito have been evacuated and they don’t get their big trees.”

Since erupting near Santa Paula the night of Dec. 4, the out-of-control wildfire has burned more than 267,500 acres in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties as of late Saturday. Hundreds of residences have been destroyed, tens of thousands of people have been ordered out of their homes, and at least two people have died, including a San Diego firefighter and a 70-year-old Santa Paula woman.

The blaze also has left clouds of thick smoke over the region, causing air quality warnings for more than a week and effectively shutting down almost all outdoor activity.

Dal Bello has been selling Christmas trees for more than 30 years. In addition to regular foot traffic being down at his tree lot, he said he’s not selling his larger, more expensive trees that grace mansions and larger houses.

“It is going to be a bad year,” he said.

Even though his trees are under a tent, some of them have ash on them.

“Just shake it and it will come off,” Dal Bello said. “You can always wash it off.”

He hopes people come in to buy a tree, noting he has good deals and good service.

Dave Lidren, owner of Big Wave Dave’s Christmas Trees, with five locations in the region, said tree sales were going great until the fire started.

“When the fire hit, everything went downward,” he said. “Everybody got out of the mode of wanting to even shop. People don’t want to come outside.”

Lidren has lots in Santa Barbara, Ventura, Camarillo and Moorpark. In addition to the smoke, he said persistent santa ana winds in Ventura County dried out about 400 of his trees.

“It’s challenging,” he said. “You can’t sell a dry tree. The tree gets recycled.”

Lidren, whose Santa Barbara lot is in La Cumbre Plaza next to Macy’s, said the smoke and dry trees have cost him “a substantial amount of money.”

“The feeling of everyone buying has been hampered because they know somebody or they have experienced themselves some kind of devastation,” he said.

And the smoke in the sky has brought everyone down.

“People don’t really want to be out in the weather,” Lidren said.

He said this weekend will be the breaking point. Even though Christmas is a week from Monday, people aren’t likely to buy a tree on Christmas eve.

“If most people are going to be buying a tree, they want to enjoy it for a couple of weeks,” Lidren said. “This weekend will be the last weekend of sales.”

Still, he is optimistic and knows things could be worse.

“There are a lot of people in worse shape than me,” Lidren said.

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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