Most Long Islanders who intended to buy a Christmas tree had done so by Tuesday, and the parking lot outside Dees' Nursery in Oceanside, once covered by 2,400 conifers, held just 93.
Tom DiDominica, 53, whose family owns Dees', said that's where they want to be by now. "About 15 years ago, we ran out of trees a day early. I promised myself that wouldn't happen again."
Christopher Matles, 23, of Oceanside, came by with his stepfather, JR, to pick out a tree as they always do - just later than usual because Chris had taken a job teaching in Mississippi and couldn't get home any sooner, and JR wouldn't consider picking a tree himself. "I had to wait for my son," JR said.
They took a 10-foot fir, only because Dees' had no 15-footers, and Chris said he'd leave the decorating to JR. "He's the artistic one," Chris said.
A chunk of time passed before another customer stopped by. He was Robert Ryan, 57, of Rockville Centre, who fingered a balsam fir. "It's perfect," he said. "The shape, the condition of the needles. It's got a healthy glow to it."
But it cost $60 - too much, said his sister, who was with him. "Right after New Year's, we cart it out and throw it away," she said.
Across the country, according to the National Christmas Tree Association, it's an $1.15-billion enterprise, with around 30 million trees being sold most years. There is no reliable statistical snapshot of how strong this year's Christmas tree sales on Long Island have been, and reports are mixed.
Assistant Chief Frank McQuade of the Huntington Manor volunteer fire department, which has sold trees for more than 25 years to raise money for uniforms and equipment, said business at the New York Avenue station has been "very slow." He blames the economy.
A lot of potential customers wanted to haggle, and he was unable to accommodate them. "If I owned a lot myself, I could give people a break," he said. "Unfortunately, that's not how it works when you're in the fundraising business."
Now, though, with too many trees left, McQuade is starting to mark down prices.
But at J.G. Brands in Bellerose, which wholesales trees to many local nurseries, John Nuzzi said business is better than last year. Exactly how much, he regards as a trade secret. "Just better."
Then there was CJ Lamprecht, 26, garden manager at Home Depot in Farmingdale, who said trees - natural and artificial - were selling as fast as they came into the store.
Particularly popular, he said, is a GE model with pre-strung light-emitting diodes. It's $229 for a 7 1/2-footer, but Lamprecht pitched it as a cost-saver over the long run.
"It'll pay for itself," he said.