Tree lots up and running in St. John

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Independent lots make it an annual event each year


Staff Reporter

LAPLACE-It’s a tough process for vendors to open up the tree lots so you can find that perfect tree every year.

Again this year the Christmas tree vendors are out in the River Region so that we can all have our perfect Christmas, but how do they transport those trees and how much do they really make?

&#8220Well the transporting part is easy. You just load the trees onto an 18-wheeler and go. I usually have one load of between 500-600 trees,” said, Gene Gress, owner and operator of Polar Bear Trees; but it is a long way from Wisconsin to LaPlace. The trip takes close to two days.”

&#8220It took us four hours with five people to load the trees onto the truck,” he said.

But the Christmas tree market is not as lucrative as it once was. With more nationally-recognized chain retailers selling fake and real trees it has become a very competitive market.

&#8220Home Depot and Wal-Mart both sell trees so the market is fair, but not as good as it used to be,” Gress said.

However, he said he still sells out every year, some years earlier than others. Last year he sold out by December 4.

Gress sells Frasier Firs, Balsam Firs, and Spruce trees and comes here because he enjoys the people and Louisiana weather.

&#8220The best seller is the Frasier Fir. It is the most sturdy so people like it and since you can’t grow Christmas trees here in this weather, there is a demand,” he said.

&#8220 I come here every year from Wisconsin, but after Katrina, I went from having four lots in New Orleans, LaPlace Waverly, Mississippi and one other to just one in LaPlace,” he said.

Waverly was destroyed in Katrina and the decreasing sales even before the hurricane in New Orleans caused Gress to decide not to reopen them.

Danny Sibenkittel owns Danny’s Locksmith Service in Reserve, but he sells Christmas trees during the holiday season on the side.

&#8220I love watching the families come with their children to pick out the tree, it is such a joyful experience for me,” Sibenkittel said.

Danny’s lot is small and he doesn’t make a lot on the trees but his aunt and uncle sold trees for 25 years before he took it up.

&#8220The trees come out of Michigan and are transported here by 18-wheeler where I take special care of them. I cut the bottoms off and put them in water and treat it like it is my own family tree,’ he said.

A lot of people don’t know much about how trees are raised and cut, and when asked, Danny was full of interesting information.

&#8220The trees usually are grown on a mountainside which is why most of the tree have crooked trunks. They are cut in August to late August and then a machine cuts them into Christmas tree shape.” he explained.

When the trees are cut with the machine they are frozen so they stay fresh until transport.

At his lot, he sells Douglas Firs, Frasier Firs and Scotch Pine.

&#8220It’s a myth that tree growers are cutting until right before Christmas, there is no time to transport trees if that was true. The trees do better in cold weather because there are fewer diseases and insects up north,” Sibenkittel said.

&#8220My supplier in Michigan is in a wheelchair and it amazes me how he can run a whole farm from his wheelchair. I admire that. Last year when he was looking for a place to sell his trees after the storm ruined his usual market I volunteered and I did it again this year and will keep doing it.” he said.

&#8220It’s good free advertising for my business too. When people see trees in front they stop to look and I made enough to take a short vacation last year,” he said.