Hurley’s market will be bathed in the scent of pine as Christmas trees arrive at the store this weekend, after the trees are inspected for bugs and cleared.
The store’s marketing representative Scot Kristal said 1,000 mostly pre-ordered trees were being inspected by Department of Agriculture officials and will be ready for pickup starting Saturday.
Overall, fresh Christmas trees will be harder to find in Cayman this year, as other retailers have dropped out of the market. Every Bloomin’ Thing is the only other company selling the traditional holiday fixture.
Mr. Kristal said Hurley’s more than doubled the number of trees it ordered compared to last year.
“We knew that with other importers choosing not to bring trees in, we tried to bridge that gap,” he said, adding that there will still be about 1,200 fewer Christmas trees available islandwide.
One of the biggest sellers in the past has been Cost-U-Less. Last year, the store brought in about 1,000 trees, said manager Joe Thorne. This year, it has none.
“We’re going to be out of that business permanently,” Mr. Thorne said. “The island regulations are strict. And that’s good. I agree with all of them. But it’s been difficult for the suppliers in the U.S. to meet them.”
In addition, he said, by the time the Department of Agriculture announced regulations for this year, most of the annual tree crop had already been bought, leaving little to choose from.
Inspecting the trees is a labor-intensive process, Mr. Thorne said. Last year, he said, every third tree had to be shaken out to see if any insects were present. If they were, the trees had to be separated from the rest of the stock and fumigated before sale.
With the process coming just as stores are preparing for Black Friday, he said, “There’s just not enough hours in the day.”
The inspection process, implemented in 2015 is aimed at preventing the introduction of invasive species to the island.
“Many insects are non-host plant specific, also known as polyphagous, which means they will feed on a wide range of host plants,” Department of Agriculture Director Adrian Estwick said in a statement. “When introduced into a new environment, they may adapt and over time become a pest of plants on which they were never previously recorded as a pest. This is true of many of the scale insects, a pest group common to pines.”
He cited the effects of the Pine Tortoise Scale insect, which is believed to have been introduced on Christmas trees and which has become a major pest in the Turks and Caicos Islands in particular, placing a significant threat on pineyard ecosystems. “To date, no viable control for the pest has been found and if the current trends continue the likely outcome is the complete loss of that country’s native pine,” he said.
He added that DoA staff had been “working arduously to ensure the public can have Christmas trees while considering the short and long-term effects on our environment.”
Ricky Handal, owner of Every Bloomin’ Thing, said although there will be fewer trees coming to Cayman, it may be enough to meet demand.
“In years past,” he said, “I think we’ve had too many trees.”
His store will have 400 trees, which will be sold on a first-come, first-served basis.
Despite the extra work and frantic pace selling the trees involves, he said, he enjoys it.
“It’s happy,” he said. “It’s that time of the year. I like it.”
He was expecting his trees to arrive in port by Thursday and to be at his store by no later than Monday once they were inspected.
He said he was not sure of the exact price he will be charging for the trees, but added that it would be close to the prices at Hurley’s, which run from $50 to $90 for trees ranging from 5 feet to 8 feet tall.
Mr. Kristal said he expected all of Hurley’s trees to be pre-ordered by the time they arrived at the store.
“We are not anticipating being able to sell any to walk-up customers,” he said.
He also warned customers that even with 25 employees working the tree lot, there will probably be a line. “Be prepared for a wait,” he said. “I hope people will just be patient. We’ll be going as fast as we can.”