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Oh, (no) Christmas tree: Carroll County farms dealing with run on holiday shopping amid pandemic

Justin Lee Radford of Baltimore raises his arms in triumph as his wife Kate Weinberg looks on after felling their Christmas tree at Hirt Tree Farm in Westminster Thursday, Dec. 10, 2020. Tree farms in Carroll are seeing big weekend crowds and high demand for trees this year.
Justin Lee Radford of Baltimore raises his arms in triumph as his wife Kate Weinberg looks on after felling their Christmas tree at Hirt Tree Farm in Westminster Thursday, Dec. 10, 2020. Tree farms in Carroll are seeing big weekend crowds and high demand for trees this year. (Dylan Slagle / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

‘Tis the season to be busy.

Holden Wolfe got Christmas tree season going at Wolfe’s Pine Valley Farms near Sykesville the week before Thanksgiving in hopes business would be brisk. Wolfe said he expected the choose-and-cut process would be rapid, and he’d be able to give people time to pick the perfect tree during the holiday season.

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Wolfe, and many others like him around Carroll County, was surprised at just how fast he ran out of trees ― Pine Valley Farms closed for the season Dec. 3, a mere two weeks after it opened.

“We expected it to be quick, but that was even quicker than I thought,” Wolfe said.

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Carroll’s Christmas tree business saw a mix of results this year. Some farms and sites remained closed amid the pandemic, while others opened a little early and hoped for the best. Those who sold trees on farms and satellite lots seemed to agree that business boomed and supply was at a premium.

Hirt Tree Farm in Westminster closed its farm Friday, Dec. 11 at 4 p.m., and posted on its website that the decision was made in part “to ensure we have Christmas trees for future seasons.” Owner Clyde Hirt still has pre-cut trees for sale thanks to a partnership with Doug Zepp at the Douglas Lawn & Landscape lot at TownMall of Westminster.

Hirt said “we have a few more trees” on the farm, but he was concerned the weekend would draw too big a crowd to manage with other farms choosing to close as well. Hirt, who planted his first trees in 1978, said the farm used more labor than normal because of the expected rush and to keep the area sanitized.

Dan Haines and his son Ben, 6, cart their Christmas tree from the fields after cutting it themselves at Hirt Tree Farm in Westminster Thursday, Dec. 10, 2020.
Dan Haines and his son Ben, 6, cart their Christmas tree from the fields after cutting it themselves at Hirt Tree Farm in Westminster Thursday, Dec. 10, 2020. (Dylan Slagle / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

“It was a good season and everyone was in a good mood,” Hirt said. “Everyone was jovial and I think happy to be out and about. It was different, but it actually went smoothly.”

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Zepp, who runs Zepp’s Tree Farm in Westminster, said he’s been selling trees on the mall parking lot since the late-1980s, when the space was grass instead of today’s asphalt. Zepp said COVID-19 played a major role in this year’s tree business, with plenty of states experiencing shortages because most people showed up at farms eager to cut their own trees.

Zepp said he has been getting customers traveling from places such as Annapolis, Northern Virginia, and the Eastern Shore just to get a fresh tree this year.

“All the tree farms are up in sales, and our stock has been depleted. ... You have to stop so you have some stuff for next year,” Zepp said.

Zepp’s Tree Farm closed for the season Dec. 7.

Putman Christmas Tree Farm in Westminster opened Nov. 27, the day after Thanksgiving, and planned to stay open on weekends until Christmas. The plan ended Dec. 8 with a post on its Facebook page letting customers know high demand over two weekends did them in.

Thomas Tree Farm in Manchester never opened, according to its website, “due to the uncertainty and risk posed by the coronavirus for our staff and customers.”

Davidson Christmas Tree Farm near Upperco has Sunday, Dec. 13 at 5 p.m. set for its closing date, according to its Facebook page.

Others remain open for now ― Showvaker’s Quality Evergreens in Manchester has pre-cut trees for sale from its farm, although Lisa Showvaker said via Facebook message it’s finished with choose-and-cut for the season.

“We are well stocked and will continue to do daily cutting as needed through Christmas,” she said.

Otterdale View Farm in Union Bridge is open through Dec. 20, Thursday through Sunday, according to its website.

Sewell’s Farm in Taneytown is open daily until Dec. 20, according to its Facebook page.

Wolfe said Pine Valley Farms sold approximately 500 trees Nov. 25, the day before Thanksgiving, where in other years they’d hit about 100 trees sold. For those two weeks of business, Wolfe estimated a total of 6,000 trees sold at this location.

Wolfe credited good weather and people feeling a pull to go outside safely as reasons why area farms experienced an uptick in sales.

Plus, shopping for a Christmas tree keeps social distancing and safety guidelines in check at almost every site.

“People ... just wanted an activity to do,” said Wolfe, who uses close to 35 people during selling season to handle things. “It can get pretty busy here.”

Robert Devilbiss shows a Christmas tree to Bart Walter with his dog Scout at the Zepp's Farm tree lot outside TownMall of Westminster Friday, Dec. 11, 2020. Zepp's has sold trees in the mall parking lot since 1988.
Robert Devilbiss shows a Christmas tree to Bart Walter with his dog Scout at the Zepp's Farm tree lot outside TownMall of Westminster Friday, Dec. 11, 2020. Zepp's has sold trees in the mall parking lot since 1988. (Dylan Slagle / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Wolfe said in years past the farm would stick to a regimented calendar during tree-selling season, but found business drying up earlier each time. Now it’s more of an “open until” approach, he said.

“I was anticipating making it at least three weeks, but that just didn’t happen,” Wolfe said. “I didn’t mind too much, because with the COVID cases ramping up ... you just never know what restrictions are going to come about.”

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