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Landscaper enters Christmas tree biz

A local landscaper hopes holiday cheer bolsters business.

Cut Above The Rest Lawn & Landscaping starting selling Christmas trees two weeks ago in an attempt to increase sales during a slow time of year at the company, 2210 W. Washington Center Road. Owner Tim Groman said he is trying to attract customers since Neuhouser Inc., a Fort Wayne nursery and landscaping operation, closed this fall after 35 years.

“You hate to see a small business go,” Groman said. “We’re always looking to find ways to extend the season, and we thought there might be people wanting another place to buy trees.”

Jami Warner is executive director of the American Christmas Tree Association of West Hollywood, Calif. The group says consumers spent $984 million on natural trees last year and more than $1 billion on artificial trees. Warner expects similar figures this year.

“Sales of both real and artificial Christmas trees are on par with last year’s numbers, so about 21 million real trees and approximately 12 million artificial can expect to be sold this season,” he said in an email. “The cost of a real tree has gone up, on average, to about $49 and the average cost of an artificial tree is about $80. The drought has not seemed to have had a negative impact on this year’s tree crop, which is good news for growers.”

The National Christmas Tree Association of Chesterfield, Mo., agrees with that market assessment but disputes Warner’s figures. In 2011, consumers spent more than $1 billion on natural trees and $670 million on artificial trees, spokesman Rick Dungey said. His group represents natural tree growers, while the American Christmas Tree Association is more closely linked with the artificial tree industry.

James Alwine, owner of the Pines of Leo, which sells natural trees, says he is looking forward to retirement.

“Traffic has been good,” he said, “about the same as last year. I didn’t expect more. We’re only open on the weekends. Next year will be our last year. Business isn’t bad, I’m just getting old.”

But Groman is just getting started. Cut Above The Rest expanded into its first stand-alone building in April. The company was founded in 2003 and has moved three times due to growth.

Groman is confident the addition of Christmas trees will increase his business’s annual sales at least 2 percent.

No new jobs will result from the expansion that includes a 2,600-square-foot building – three times larger than Groman’s old Illinois Road location.

“We invested about $5,000 to $6,000 in total,” he said. “We are busy during the winter with snowplowing, ice removal and things like that. We just thought selling Christmas trees would give people another option. We look forward to adding some activities next year.”

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