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A tree-mendous decision: Shoppers split on whether to get real, artificial trees

Jason Wohlman of West Fargo ties his new Christmas tree to the roof of his vehicle Friday after shopping at the Holy Cross Catholic Church Men's Club lot in West Fargo. Forum Communications Photo/David Samson, The Forum

WEST FARGO - Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, but for Katie and Jason Wohlman, when it comes to buying a Christmas tree, the choice also leans heavily on the sniffer.

In choosing between real versus artificial trees, the West Fargo couple are devotees of grown. And they were out Friday, staking their claim to a Frasier fir at the Holy Cross Catholic Church Men's Club tree lot here.

"I love the smell of a real tree in the house," said Jason, sizing up a 9-footer. "And I've yet to see (an artificial tree) that looks as good."

Katie has just one question for artificial tree lovers.

"Does their tree smell like Christmas?" she asks.

Mykke Kjellerson, her husband, Mike, and their 23-month-old son, Carsen, watched as a lot attendant trimmed their 6-foot tree.

"I've always gotten a real tree. I love 'em. I'll never get an artificial tree," the Fargo woman said, adding that the smell seals the deal for her, too.

"It's just Christmas altogether," Kjellerson said.

Whether the trees are real or fake, Americans are not shy about buying them, figures show.

The National Christmas Tree Association estimates 27 million real trees, valued at $976 million, were sold in the U.S. last year. About 8.2 million artificial trees, valued at $530 million, were sold in the U.S., the group said.

Over time, sales have ebbed and flowed, with a high of 32.8 million real trees sold in 2005. Artificial trees saw a jump from 9.3 million trees in 2006 to 17.4 million in 2007, drifting back down to 11.7 million in 2008 and 2009, the NCTA reports.

Still, durability, ease of use and improving looks have put artificial trees in most American households. A Harris Interactive survey found 58 percent of all homes had an artificial tree in 2007.

Brian Bloemendaal is joining the ranks of those who will be able to store his Christmas cheer for another year.

At Menards, Bloemendaal and Danae Knapper were strolling through the Enchanted Forest looking for a tree that would look good, fit his budget and be allowed in his Fargo apartment.

"I was hoping actually for a real tree, but the apartment doesn't allow it," Bloemendaal said.

But for Knapper, the faster the pre-Christmas set-up, the better.

"Obviously, it has to be prelit, because I don't want to put lights on it," she said.

An aisle away, Dave Heller loaded a box with two trees into his cart. Those two trees will go outside for the entry to his home. Two other artificial trees are inside; one upstairs, one downstairs, he said.

"They're easier to deal with," Heller said. "Everything's pre-lit. Just add the ornaments."

Helmut Schmidt is a reporter for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. The Forum and the Bemidji Pioneer are both owned by Forum Communications Co.