More than 300 trees stand buried in snow on the Luxton Fairgrounds, awaiting a home.
The husband-wife team behind Happy Christmas Tree Co. knew this seventh year in business would be a challenge. Margins this year were already tighter with higher overhead, and the math said they’d need far more than the 800 trees received this year.
“We tried really hard not to raise our prices too much,” Debbie Strochein said. “I was so stressed at the start of the season because I sold out in nine days last year.”
Her husband Kyle predicted a potential small loss by the planned final day of sales on Sunday (Dec. 18). Instead, as snow buried the lot Monday evening, hundreds of trees remained and sales are down 37 per cent over last year.
“I have almost 300 trees left and we should have none. We’re not sure where we went wrong,” Debbie said. “As a little family business, we’re devastated. We’re short well over $25,000.”
While the photo sessions on site sold out, the makers’ market suffered a similar fate – down 65 per cent in sales over last year. One vendor said her small shop in Langford also didn’t fare as well this month.
Normally the collective sales in the market is close to $30,000 - this year it’s $7,000. Unfortunately, the market also serves as a fundraiser for the Juan de Fuca Search and Rescue.
Debbie lauds the volunteers – people with other jobs who spent nine days recently searching the woods near Sooke for a missing woman. They came ready to help prepare the lot for the coming snowstorm.And this year she can’t repay them as the business usually does.
“Our fundraising efforts were not even close to the goal we had,” Debbie said, adding she hopes the SAR team’s tree chipping and bottle drive Jan. 7 at Slegg Lumber helps.
At this point, she isn’t necessarily seeing the monetary loss to their small family business, but the lost investment of time and energy.
“We get emotionally attached to our efforts and our labours,” Debbie said. “It’s heartbreaking. Yesterday, looking around … that was a 15 -year-old tree – 15 years of input and it’s not going to get used, it’s just sitting there.”
The bulk of the trees come from the Terrace area, with some alpines sourced from the Fraser Valley this year.
“But I shouldn’t have because they’re still sitting there,” she said with a chuckle, an attempt at the lighter side. “A loss is a loss. Now it’s just a matter of getting those trees somewhere, making sure to the best of our ability they’re not wasted.”
Trapped at their Highlands home with no expectation of street clearing anytime soon, Debbie remained hopeful Tuesday that the trees will find a home ahead of Christmas Day. She ran a little “social experiment” Monday after preparing the Luxton site for the snow – she left the gates unlocked.
She also alerted the onsite caretaker that folks may come along for a tree.
Then several people tidily helped themselves and e-transferred funds.
Visit facebook.com/happyholidaystreeco for contact information on how to give a tree a home this holiday season.
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