Ho, ho … oh: Inflation and supply chain problems mean that it’s more expensive than ever for festive New Yorkers to deck their halls.
The Grinch-like price gouging and empty shelves have been especially rough on Joe Mure of Belle Harbor, Queens. For the last 20 years, the 60-year-old criminal defense attorney and 2018 home decorating champion of ABC’s “The Great Christmas Light Fight” has turned his four-bedroom home into a local holiday attraction dubbed “The Little North Pole.”
Last week, he invited neighbors over for his annual tree lighting which is “better than Rockefeller Center,” he said. The most lit house in the neighborhood, and possibly the city, Mure’s home display is a dazzling feat that takes an army and a calendar commitment to pull off.
It features a hefty lighting display, large display presents, life-size cherubic statues and a two-story nutcracker soldier adorning the entrance. There’s also a double garage turned window display with miniature winter scenes depicting Central Park with kids skating, a workshop with Santa and Mrs. Claus knitting — and a workshop with busy elves building toys.
Mure wanted to go especially big with his decorations this year after COVID put the kibosh on holiday gatherings last year. But securing the goods to give his house the Griswold garnish was harder than ever before, he said.
“There [were] a lot of shortages, so we made due with what they had,” Mure said, citing fewer colors of tinsel and lights in stock. “We ordered little things from local places and it was a little bit more expensive, but they were very generous and kind to us.”
Mure admits that he got the decorating supplies he needed in part because of his longstanding relationships with local merchants. Others may not be so lucky this year. A combination of port backups of more than a month in Los Angeles, combined with China operating at 60% capacity due to power outages, has created a perfect Christmas decoration storm.
“Electronics and holiday lights, like most American imports at this time, are experiencing massive delays at the ports,” said Sal Stile, the president of Alba Wheels Up International, a New York-based supply chain management and freight company. “In addition, electronics and items containing rechargeable batteries are categorized as ‘dangerous goods’ and shipping lines have reduced allotments to move these types of goods to prevent fire or other similar incidents from occurring during the voyage.”
And in accordance with the immutable laws of supply and demand, shipping woes mean higher prices for consumers.
“Significantly higher freight costs coupled with customs charges have increased pricing,” said Regina Morrow — holiday lights, pottery and garden care buyer for the Westbury-based Hicks Nurseries.
The retailer said that they had to pass on those price increases to the consumer this holiday season, though they said they ordered early so they aren’t too short on most items.
It’s not just lights and tinsel that are harder to come by. Even fresh trees are in short supply this year.
“Everything seasonal has gone up,” said Jen Shaw, 41, who lives on Staten Island with her partner and her partner’s two kids, 12 and 9. “The lights. The trees! [Oh my God], for a fresh tree in Bay ridge, I saw it was over $100! Trees used to be like $70 max! And that was a big tree,” she said.
Compounding issues like a lack of trucks and drivers to cart the trees — as well as a decade-in-the-making deliberate shortage intended to drive Christmas tree prices up, owing to a previous overabundance of trees — are causing scrambles for retailers and consumers alike, according to George Smith, who owns NYC Tree Shop with four retail locations and an online business selling trees and holiday décor.
Smith has also seen prices skyrocket and supply dwindle this year. A freight truck from Canada carrying a load of fresh Christmas trees cost $4,100 last year; this year, it cost $11,000. He has had to pass along price increases in the ballpark of around 30% to his customers. He is also in short supply of holiday décor including tree toppers and stars.
“Business is up. There is more demand, and prices are up. Everybody wants a tree, but the prices have tripled,” Smith said.
But even for a Noel nut like Mure, it isn’t light shows and balsams that make Christmas magic. Each year, he raises money for juvenile diabetes research — so far he has raised more than $2 million. He even hosts an event for kids with special needs.
“[They’re] lovable, innocent kids, and you see the joy and the smile and the twinkle in their eye,” Mure said. “That’s priceless.”
The price of Christmas, then and now
7.5-foot artificial tree
6-foot real tree
Source: George Smith, owner of NYC Tree Shop
String of lights
Source: LA Times
Average electric bill
Source: New York State Department of Public Service