TAMPA — Now that turkey and stuffing have been cleared away, people are ready to deck their halls for Christmas.
In the days after Thanksgiving, shoppers are making their way to tree lots to pick out what for many is the most important holiday decoration. Stout noble fir and Scotch pine trees are lashed to car roofs and taken home, where they will be watered and decorated until their day in the spotlight on Dec. 25.
Sales have been steady at many local lots — a number of which have been open for about a week — but tree retailers say they expect business will continue to pick up as the holiday nears.
“When the 12 days of Christmas start, that's our busiest season,” said David Evans, who manages a lot along Dale Mabry Highway near Raymond James Stadium.
Because Thanksgiving was later this year than usual, people have about four weeks to get a tree. Lance McCullers, whose family has operated the tree lot at Plant High School since 1963, said having one less weekend to shop is helping his sales rather than hurting them.
“It's a shorter season this year, so I think everybody's getting in the mood a little quicker,” he said.
Michael and Kendall Wichman picked out two trees from the Plant High lot Saturday afternoon: a 12-foot Noble Fir for their living room and another 15-foot tree to go up in their cul-de-sac.
They're having an early Christmas party on Dec. 14, and they need the tree up before then. And it has to be a real one, Kendall Wichman said.
“It's more Christmas-y,” she said.
Purveyors of live Christmas trees say they won't know how the season will shape up nationally until the day after Christmas. On average, consumers spend a total of about $1 billion on trees within a three-to-four week period, said National Christmas Tree Association spokesman Rick Dungey.
“Anecdotally, we're hearing positive things from growers and retailers nationwide,” he said. “A lot of people in the industry think they should have a good year.”
Evans, who has been managing his lot for the past three years, is confident sales will be good. Thanks to good rain in North Carolina this year, the trees are coming in prettier and greener than in some previous years, he said.
With Christmas music playing in the background, he took customers through the tent Saturday afternoon, showing off the lot's various trees.
The lot, which opens every year on Nov. 22, sells about 1,000 trees every season, he said. They come from Oregon, North Carolina, Michigan and North Dakota. Evans has trees with soft needles, sharp needles, bright green needles and needles that smell slightly like citrus.
The key to picking out the right tree, Evans tells his customers, is to listen to your heart.
“I've had people pick out what I considered the ugliest tree in the world, but it spoke to them,” he said.
Kari Amador, who was shopping Saturday afternoon with her husband, Michael, and their 1-year-old son, Alric, said it was the family's first year buying a live Christmas tree.
Originally from Chicago, Amador said she missed real Christmas trees and wanted to have their tree up before relatives arrive for the holiday and before their daughter is born next month.
“We want nothing too huge,” she said, “but something that smells good.”