KTA opts out of Christmas trees this year; Y’s Men and Women’s Club reduces order

  • Josiah Anderson, 17, and Pelika Delovio, 16, with the National Guard Youth Challenge Academy, water Christmas trees in preparation for the Hilo Y's Men and Women's Club annual tree sale in 2018. (Stephanie Salmons/Hawaii Tribune-Herald)

  • Youth Challenge Academy members Matthew Newton, Paul Hagedorn and Dakota Kala unload Christmas trees in 2019 for the Hilo Y’s Men and Women’s Club's 70th annual Christmas tree sale and fundraiser. (Stephanie Salmons/Hawaii Tribune-Herald)

Christmas trees might be harder to come by this year on Hawaii Island because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

KTA Super Stores, which has sold trees at the holidays for nearly three decades, won’t this year.

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Richard Chinen, vice president in charge of store operations, said the trees take up a lot of space on the sidewalk near the Puainako store’s main entrance. Because space is necessary for social distancing, KTA management didn’t feel tree sales were feasible this year.

“Because of social distancing, you have to make sure you have sufficient space for customers to line up and move around our front doors,” he said. “Considering the current situation, (canceling the tree sales) seemed the most prudent thing to do.”

Chinen said the decision to cancel the tree sale was based on what was best for the community and employees.

The Hilo Y’s Men and Women’s Club, however, will offer a limited number of Christmas trees next month during its long-running tree sale at the Ben Franklin Crafts parking lot in Hilo.

The group usually brings in a 40-foot container of trees, but tree sale co-chair Lance Niimi said this year they’ll bring in a 20-foot container, or a little more than 200 trees.

Last year, the group brought in about 450 trees.

“(We) scaled it back because we were concerned about the COVID-19 pandemic,” Niimi said.

Organizers weren’t sure how the economy would be, and there was concern about a recent spike of COVID-19 cases, he explained.

Niimi said, too, that if the group brought in more trees, they’d have to extend the sale, which means more exposure for the volunteers.

As of early last week, Niimi said only about 40 trees remained unsold through the ongoing presale, and there won’t be many left for the general public.

“We’re kind of sad about that, but we weren’t sure how many volunteers we’d get, how many people would buy trees.”

Niimi said the group decided to continue with the sale to take care of customers who have supported them each year, and to offer a bit of Christmas spirit.

Then known as the Hilo Y’s Men Club, the group — a nonprofit, community service organization that supports the Hawaii Island YMCA — began its Christmas tree fundraiser in 1950.

According to Niimi, the YMCA is helping the group with COVID-19 precautions.

Among safety measures implemented for the sale, there will be temperature checks, hand sanitizer, social distancing and masks will be required, and the number of people who can enter the tent will be limited to 20.

Those who preorder can pick up trees Nov. 23-25. If trees remain, the sale will open to the public Nov. 27. Niimi said preorders are still being accepted on a first-come, first-served basis. Those who wish to order a tree should contact Ken Okimoto at 339-4629.

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Walmart in Hilo, however, will still sell live Christmas trees this season, and a corporate spokeswoman said the store isn’t expecting any changes to its inventory.

She did not say how many trees would be shipped to Hilo.

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