RICE -- The holiday season has arrived, and Christmas tree sellers across the country are reporting a notable uptick in sales.

“In fact, many smaller lots have already closed for the season due to limited supply,” said Cheryl Thiele, co-owner of Hinkemeyer Tree Farm in Rice. “Some didn’t even open this year due to illness or being at higher risk of COVID complications.”

Hinkemeyer, which offers a 40 acre “choose and cut” farm along with a pre-cut lot, traditionally begins selling trees the weekend before Thanksgiving.

“We saw about twice as many people as we normally do that weekend,” she said. “I think it’s just been pushed out a little early – people are anxious to get the lights up and get that smell in the room, and have it there to enjoy.”

Thiele says about half of their customers choose to cut their own tree, while the remaining half opts to select one off the lot. With the COVID-19 pandemic likely to keep more families home for the holidays this year, she says they’re seeing some new faces.

“A high percentage of people who have not used a real tree in the past few years are coming out to get a real tree this year,” she said. “So, it’s definitely a lot of new traffic this year, but the people who do usually get a real tree are coming a bit earlier.”

Thiele also operates two websites offering trees, décor and seasonal planters for delivery. Both have outperformed previous years, Thiele said.

“The delivery aspect is important to many people, not only because of the ease and convenience, but also due to safety issues due to COVID-19,” she said.

Thiele says customers appreciate the timelessness of picking out a Christmas tree – perhaps more this year than before.

“There’s nostalgia,” Thiele said. “People are going back to what they used to do as a kid with their families. And they want something special, because everything is really heavy right now. The Christmas tree farm is something that is still open. They’re getting out into nature, and breathing without a mask on.

“There’s a lot you can get out of that experience that’s just rich, and people are longing for that these days,” she added.

Hinkemeyer Christmas Tree Farm also offers a holiday gift shop, hay wagon rides and DIY classes. They’re open a variety of days and hours; to find out more, visit their website.

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