Drought and forest fires in the Pacific Northwest have ended a 67-year-old Christmas tradition in Tooele City.
Since 1950, Tooele County residents have been able to buy a Christmas tree from Vario’s Christmas Tree Lot. But not anymore.
“In June, our tree supplier informed us that they would be unable to supply us with trees this year,” said Julie Vario. “We’ve looked, but we have been unable to find a new tree supplier. There was one that said they could send us a few trees at a time, but that won’t work for us.”
The Vario’s tree supplier, located near Portland, Oregon, said it had a shortage of trees due to drought and forest fires in the Pacific Northwest.
“They said what trees they had would be sold in California because they will pay more for trees,” Vario said.
Oregon is the number one Christmas tree producer in the U.S., according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The Oregon Farm Bureau predicted a smaller supply of fresh trees for this year, not only due to wildfire and drought, but also because of the recession.
It takes an average of eight years for a Christmas tree to grow to the size that it is typically ready for harvest. Trees harvested this year were planted during the recession when demands for Christmas trees dramatically dropped and many tree growers went out of business, according to the Oregon Farm Bureau.
According to USDA statistics, there were 41,223 acres of land in Oregon producing Christmas trees in 2015, which is down 28 percent from 2010.
Julie and Pat Vario took over the family Christmas tree lot from Pat’s father, Ernie, in the early 1990s, according to Julie Vario.
A few years before Julie and Pat Vario took over the family Christmas tree lot, they moved the tree lot to their home and property on Utah Avenue.
Ernie Vario started the family Christmas tree business in 1950. He lived in Ophir. He cut trees down from forests near Ophir and hauled them to Tooele City and sold them on Main Street.
“I don’t know if what he did was legal back then, but that’s how he did it,” Julie Vario said.
Over time the Varios started cutting trees on land in Morgan, Scofield, and the Uintah mountains.
Eventually the property where they were cutting trees was sold to developers and the trees disappeared, Julie Vario said.
The Varios looked around and found a Christmas tree farm near Portland, Oregon.
At the height of their business, the Varios ordered 1,200 trees a year. After Home Depot came to Tooele and started selling Christmas trees, the Varios scaled back their order to 700-800 trees.
Buying a tree at the Vario’s tree lot wasn’t just a stop and get a tree experience, according to Julie Vario.
The Varios went full tilt and decked their backyard with a fire pit, Christmas decorations, and a Santa Claus house with a real Santa for children to visit. They served hot chocolate and their grandkids sold homemade popcorn balls.
“It was a real family business,” Julie Vario said. “When our 10 grandchildren became too old to work on the lot, we hired their cousins.”
Julie Vario said they had a loyal following of customers, including some from Salt Lake County, who had been coming to Vario’s Christmas Tree Lot for 25 years to get their Christmas tree.
Now that their tree lot will be closed, Julie Vario is not only concerned about where her former customers will go to find a tree, she is also worried about community organizations that the tree lot supported.
“We donated trees to the Children’s Justice Center and Food Bank for families in need,” Julie Vario said. “The FFA kids would help us unload the trees each year. We let them keep the loose branches to make wreaths that they sold as a fundraiser.”
With the end of the Christmas tree shortage uncertain, it may take eight years for today’s seedlings to reach market, but Julie Vario said she and her husband are done with selling Christmas trees.
“We sold our racks and stands,” Julie Vario said. “We’re out of the tree business.”