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Christmas tree sales split between local and import trees

  • 2001-12-20
  • Elina Cerpa and Tassos Coulaloglou
RIGA, VILNIUS - Evergreen trees lean against a raw wooden hut in Riga's Dome Square, waiting to be purchased, taken home and decked out in multicolored lights, silvery tinsel and Christmas ornaments.

For 44-year-old Lilita Slaveniece, however, the trees are more than a bit of scented seasonal cheer - they mean food on the Christmas table and presents under the tree at home.

Like many people selling Christmas trees around the Baltic states, Slaveniece is a small-time operator who depends on holiday sales for a significant portion of her livelihood.

However, strengthening economies in Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia are bringing more demand for higher-quality pines imported from Nordic countries.

A vegetable farmer during the other seasons of the year, Slaveniece has been cutting trees from 3.2 hectares of private forest she owns near Ogre and selling them for the last eight years.

But the prices her trees command vary widely based on economic conditions.

"When a factory in Ogre made huge changes and laid off a lot of people, they couldn't buy Christmas trees," Slaveniece said. "To keep bringing joy to people, I decided to drastically reduce the prices of trees."

But following economic trends means higher turnover on imported, expensive trees for other Christmas tree sellers.

Tomas - who declined to give his last name - has been selling more expensive Danish Christmas trees for three years in Vilnius.

"Last year we bought and sold 100 trees, but this year we increased the number to 300," Tomas said. "I cater to a different type of customer than the average Christmas tree vendor. My prices are higher but the quality of the tree is definitely that much better."

Other sellers like Arturs look at the market and head for middle ground - local trees and more expensive imported Danish evergreens sold side-by-side.

The Latvian soon-to-be Christmas pines are from a seed plot in Iecava and the Danish trees are purchased from a warehouse.

There is no question that the imported trees rack up costs during import in shipping and quarantine costs, as well as taxes. The Nordic pines also command the prices to make the additional costs worthwhile.

"Not everyone can sell by the Hotel De Rome," said Tomas, who sells more trees to corporations and other organizations than to private individuals shopping for a home tree. "And our prices are exclusive."

Most tree salespeople - both those with costly imports and affordable home-grown pines - think that there is room in the Christmas tree market for both types of trees.

Andreas Schutte sells German trees at the Riga Central Bus Station that are higher in price than home-grown evergreens but doesn't feel the competitive pinch from Latvian-tree sellers.

"We don't feel any competition now because around the central market no one else sells German fir trees," Schutte said. "Ordinary (Latvian) trees are in the market, but they are no competition."