If it's not too thin, it's too fat. And if it's not too short, it's too tall.
Beauty is definitely in the eye of the beholder when it comes to shopping for Christmas trees.
Donnie White of Covina was looking for a "natural shape." But her husband, Chuck, looked straight through the boughs to the spine of each Monterey pine, in search of a straight trunk, "so the tree won't stand crookedly." How ever, their son Rik, 17, was willing to overlook almost any shortcoming, as long as the tree was tall enough and full enough.
Finally, after numerous disagreements, the Whites found among the 12,000 available at the Sturrock Christmas Tree Farm in San Dimas a specimen that appealed to all three of them.
"We think it just looks right. It was made for us," Rik said as he watched an employee mark sold on the family's 10-foot Christmas tree.
The Whites are among the estimated 2,000 customers who will stake out and reserve Christmas trees this year at the 14-acre farm run by Bob and Lorie Sturrock.
Once the customer has found his "perfect" tree, its tag is marked as sold, and he pays for it. As Christmas approaches, some families return as often as once a week to admire their trees and to "see how they're doing," Bob Sturrock said. Finally, two or three weeks before Christmas, they come back to take them home.
The Sturrocks get a jump on the holiday season by opening their farm and taking tree reservations beginning the first weekend in November. But business dosen't get going for most of the six other growers in the San Gabriel Valley until earlier this month.
Bob Sturrock, who is secretary of the 700-member California Christmas Tree Growers Assn., said this weekend will probably be the busiest of the season for the growers, with families coming to the farms both to select and pick up their trees. Many growers let buyers cut their own trees, but Bob Sturrock said he would rather do it himself.
"We usually cut the trees for the customers. If they really want to cut it themselves, we'll go with them," said Sturrock, citing safety and the scarcity of tools as the reason he does not encourage do-it-yourself cutting.
The Sturrocks say they sell an average of 2,000 trees a year, ranging in price from $15 for a four-foot tree to $64 for a towering nine-foot pine.
"This is the fifth year I've been here," said Don Jaeger of Glendora, who had his three daughters in tow when he shopped for his tree in early November.
"It's somewhat of a compromise," he said, "but we finally found a tree and the girls got it staked out."
Bob Sturrock said he has learned a lot about compromise during his 24 years of Christmas tree farming.
"We've heard a lot of family quarrels," Sturrock said. "Little kids start screaming because they don't like the tree."
Many who take their Christmas tree shopping seriously say they patronize Christmas tree farms rather than city lots because they think they get healthier, fresher trees at lower prices than those charged for pre-cut trees at lots in the city.
"I used to buy them off the lot, but we just wanted to get a fresh tree. I'd rather cut my own tree so that all the pine needles don't fall off later," Jaeger said.
Those who don't want to travel to San Dimas for a tree can find in-ground trees at four Lyon's Christmas Tree Farms in Rosemead and the City of Industry, the Grand Avenue Tree Farm in Glendora, Grandpa's Christmas Tree Farm in Hacienda Heights, the Green and Fresh Christmas Tree Farm in Pasadena, the Holiday Christmas Tree Farm in the City of Industry and the Mt. Baldy Christmas Tree Farm in Claremont.
The Lyon's, Grand Avenue, Green and Fresh and Holiday farms are within city limits, contrasted with the more rural settings at the Sturrock, Mt. Baldy and Grandpa's farms.
But Charles Mautz, who owns the Green and Fresh Christmas Tree Farm at Rosemead Boulevard near the Foothill Freeway, attempts to bring a mountain mood to his 4 1/2-acre lot surrounded by concrete and power lines.
Mautz offers camping lanterns to customers who shop at night, making the search for a Christmas tree seem more like an authentic trek into the wilderness. His customers can select from among 1,800 Monterey pines at prices ranging from $19 to $30.
"Most people can't go out to the woods," said Mautz, a teacher whose wife, two children and their grandmothers help him run the lot.
"This makes it like people are really going out into the woods to cut down their own tree," he said.
At Grandpa's in Hacienda Heights, shoppers browse in a suburban setting on seven acres under Southern California Edison Co. power lines.
There are 7,000 trees available there this year, at prices ranging from $12 to $40.
"They sell for about $4 a foot," said co-owner Anne Kipers, who added that most of Grandpa's tallest trees had already been sold.
"We've had people from all over this year," said Kipers, noting that she had helped customers from as far away as Beverly Hills and Palos Verdes.