Despite the financial crisis, Christmas tree salesman Brad Wiggins said his business, Wiggins Christmas Trees, has had about the same number of customers this year as before.But he said he's noticed his customers' buying habits have changed. While sales of the largest, most robust Christmas trees have declined, wreath sales have increased.
"I don't have data from the past couple years, so I can't give you hard numbers on how the proportions have changed," said Wiggins, who operates the tree business out of the backyard of his West Chester Pike auto tag business. "But one thing I can tell you is that we're still really busy."
Wiggins' customers all said there was no question Christmas still has to happen. But as they waited for Wiggins' staff to tie up their evergreens on Saturday afternoon, they admitted the financial crisis has made them rethink some of their Christmas plans.
Paige Merten of East Goshen said the tree her family bought this year was a tad smaller than her past Christmas trees.
"We're getting the $45 tree instead of the $55 tree," she said. "We're definitely cutting back."
Merten said her children will probably not see much difference in what ends up under the tree, the adults in her life don't plan to give each other consumer goods.
"We're giving gifts of time this year," she said. "Instead of buying our neighbors things, we're going to offer to babysit each others' kids. We'll make cookies. Things like that. It's very old fashioned - more thoughtful."
Merten said the financial crisis hasn't affected her family yet; there have been no layoffs or decreases in household income. But she said her husband works in the financial industry, which has taken a huge hit in 2008 and may continue to bleed next year.
"We're concerned," she said. "We're preparing for the possibility of decreased income."
Many people interviewed told the same story. While their families haven't been hit yet, they're buying less this Christmas in anticipation of a difficult 2009.
"I'm trying to minimize as much as possible, to fight the temptation to buy extras" said Frank McCartney, a mortgage industry professional from West Goshen. "I'm paying for everything in cash. There's a lot of uncertainty. I guess uncertainty is the word."
Eugene Milbourne, a food industry professional from West Goshen, said Christmas this year will be "all about the kids."
"The adult family members aren't planning to give each other much," he said. "It won't be the best Christmas we've ever had, but everyone has to make sacrifices."
Milbourne, too, hasn't seen any layoffs in his family, but he said he's "preparing."
It's not just adults who are worried this holiday season, said Amy Beckman, a Lower Merion resident who has gotten her tree from The Farmer in Lyndell, a tree seller in East Brandywine, every year for the past 20 years.
"Even my kids understand times are tough, and they're 9 and 12," said Beckman. "Their lists to Santa have only two items each. Of course, they wake up to 'Good Morning America' every day, so that could be why."
Beckman said she and her husband, Kirk, are cutting back this year - they're not making their customary drive to Michigan to visit Kirk's parents.
Kirk owns pizza restaurants and said sales have been down for a year.
"It doesn't just hit upscale restaurants," he said. "They always say pizza is the poor man's feast. Once you lose those customers, that's it."
Amy Beckman said tough economic times have just made her more grateful for what she still has.
"You don't know what's going to happen," she said. "Nobody knows. Tomorrow, it could all end. You have to be grateful for every moment you have."