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SELLERS SEE TRENDS IN CHRISTMAS TREE PURCHASES

In his eight Christmases, Matthew Newman of North Tonawanda has become a fan of live trees.

While his parents, Janet and Craig Newman, shopped for the perfect tree at Superior Tree Farms on Porter Road one evening last week, Matthew ducked among the hundreds of trees staked on the lot.

Although he didn't take part in the final selection, Matthew knew why he prefers a real tree to a plastic or even a ceramic one.

"They are real big and they smell better," said the third-grader at St. Paul's Lutheran School.

John Krizan, whose family has sold trees for three generations, said he has seen tastes shift from the long-needled Scotch pine to blue spruce and fraser fir, the types that now make up the bulk of his stock.

"The Scotch pine used to be the big thing, years ago," said Krizan, who has sold trees for 20 of his 35 years. "They grow very quickly. But they are not as good a tree. Now, you'll see them sold (at discount stores) and they've been cut so early that they've started to turn yellow. What they do is spray-paint them. They call it a preservative, but preservatives could be colorless, and you can see the color on the branches."

Superior's trees are cut in late November on the family's tree farm in Fillmore, N.Y., in the Southern Tier, he said. "I buy them from my father, who owns the farm, so it's really a family thing," Krizan said. He said large retailers who offer trees at extremely low prices may be selling trees cut as early as September in Michigan or Washington.

"We come here every year because of this being a family-run business," said Mrs. Newman, "and they only cut a few trees."

After a leisurely walk around the tree lot, the Newmans made their selection and Craig Newman loaded a large, fragrant fraser fir into the trunk of their car.

Stedman's Old Farm Nursery's two locations, on Main Street in Newfane and on Transit Road in Amherst, have seen "real good, brisk sales," especially of live trees sold with their roots in burlap, said general manager Joel Campbell.

Family-owned until it was purchased by the employees in 1989, Stedman's has been selling Christmas trees for 75 years, Campbell said. And he sees no end to the trend toward live trees, which can be planted outside.

"We sell two (live trees) for every one cut tree," said Campbell, who has personally sold Christmas trees for 15 years. "They can average 20 percent more, but you don't just toss them out the door" after the season ends.

That also won't happen to the few dozen Christmas trees that Robert E. Blackman sells from his all-season farm at 4772 Thrall Road, Cambria.

Blackman bags the roots of his Christmas trees so that they can be planted after they have been given the tinsel, bulb and colored light Christmas season beauty treatment.

"My father, Walter Blackman -- he's now living in Florida -- and I began bagging our Christmas trees about 25 years ago," said Blackman, 53. "I suppose there must be about 1,000 Blackman started trees -- memories of past Christmases -- growing around Niagara County."

Blackman raises and bags Douglas firs, and Norway and blue spruces on his five-acre evergreen patch. "We sell them for from $40 to $70," he said. "We recommend that people keep them indoors for no longer than 10 to 14 days because they react to the indoor heat.

"Then they should be planted when the weather is right and the ground is not frozen. They are bagged in burlap and a wire cage. The burlap rots away and the iron cage rusts away, putting a little iron into the soil."

The live trees, which tend to be a bit smaller than cut trees, are more attractive to many purchasers who don't have huge rooms and tall ceilings, Campbell said. "There used to be a lot of 8- to 10-footers; now there are a lot of 4- to 5-footers."

Krizan, of Superior, agreed. "People don't get 9- to 10-foot trees anymore. People live in trailers, or smaller apartments, or they are older people and just don't want to be bothered."

Krizan offers small Christmas trees, dubbed "babies," perfectly shaped trees that range up to 4 feet tall and are about 5 years old. Every year he cuts 50 or 60 of the baby trees, and finds them hot sellers.

Both Superior and Stedman's will be open from 9 a.m to 9 p.m. daily until Christmas Eve. On Christmas Eve, Krizan expects to sell his last tree in the early afternoon, while Stedman's will ring up purchases until 5 p.m.

Sid Jeffrey, owner of Averell Farms on North Ridge Road, Cambria, also gets his trees from the Southern Tier. He cuts 300 to 400 trees each year from 60 acres of land in Franklinville that grows about 35,000 trees.

Jeffrey said his big sellers are Douglas fir and blue spruce, and, unlike some other sellers, he has noticed a demand for larger trees.

"I've been selling a lot of big ones, 6- to 8-footers, some even bigger than that," he said. I've even sold a couple of 16- to 18-footers."

Jeffrey said he has been selling Christmas trees for only about five years, along with operating his greenhouses to grow flowers and vegetables. Christmas tree business this year has been "not too bad," he said, adding, "it keeps us busy."

Jeffrey said Averell Farms is open for purchases from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. and will sell trees right up until 8 p.m. on Christmas Eve. "We're always home," he said.

As soon as the last tree has been roped to the last customer's roof, Jeffrey will celebrate the holidays -- then, soon into the new year, his thoughts will turn to spring.

"I'll start planting pansies and petunias," he said. "I've got to get a stockpile of seedlings ahead."