CITYWIDE — Even for families that are cutting down on holiday expenses, oftentimes a Christmas tree is something they simply can’t do without.

As a cherished symbol of the season — and an often expensive luxury item — the Christmas tree market is a unique economic bellwether that can provide a special insight into consumers’ holiday moods.

“Our sales went down about 15 percent (last year), but this year they’re back up again. So I think the economy is showing signs of improvement,” said Eliane Wilk, who has 20 years of Christmas tree selling experience. She and her husband, Shawn, have operated Shawn’s Christmas Trees at Wilshire Boulevard and 23rd Street for the past six years. They have sold, on average, 300 trees a day, she said.

During the 2008 season, shortly after the recession hit, Wilk said those who did buy trees often opted for humbler choices, saving $50 by sacrificing a foot or two of height.

“This year, I’m not noticing that,” she said.

It could be, though, that tree shoppers are simply drawn to Shawn’s Trees deals. Each year, the lot takes progressive steps to bring in business, like sending e-mails to some 6,000 past customers offering a 10 percent discount for repeat business.

Other tree dealers, though, said tree sales were showing a darker economic picture.

“It’s been good on sales but a lot of people have been on a budget so they really can’t get the big trees they want,” said Andrew Mikhaiel, of the rival A-1 Christmas Tree Lot at Wilshire Boulevard and 14th Street. “We help them out and we give them a discount on this or on that to make sure everyone is a happy camper.”

Compared with 2008, he said tree buyers are more frugal.

“People normally don’t bargain, especially in Santa Monica, but now [with] the economy, they want to work something out,” he said.

Santa Monica resident Van Durrer was among the few on hand this week looking for a deal.

“People are more willing to bargain,” he said. “There are more trees available this late [in the season] than I would have expected.”

But for him, the weak economy wasn’t a factor.

“I’m a bankruptcy lawyer and business is great right now,” he said.

Connie Davis got her 8- to 9-foot tree at A-1 and saved compared to last Christmas.

“I spent about $150 last year. This year, I spent $90,” the Bel-Air resident said.

And Kristen Diamandis, a recent Santa Monica transplant from the Pacific Northwest, was just trying to adjust to L.A.-area prices.

“I didn’t even know how expensive they could get,” she said.

At home her family could simply cut one down for free.

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