updated 12/19/2004 11:08:31 PM ET 2004-12-20T04:08:31

A shortage of Christmas trees in Hawaii has raised prices to more than $200 each, drawing complaints from cost-conscious shoppers who are eager to buy trees before the holiday.

Tree buyers camped outside a shopping center hours before dawn on Saturday to await a shipment of 130 noble firs flown in from Oregon. A crowd of more than 200 people had gathered by morning, when a salesman announced the trees would cost $165 to $200 each.

Consumers complained that was at least twice the price charged just a few days earlier. In previous weeks, trees sold for $30 to $70.

Most Christmas trees sold in Hawaii have been delivered by cargo ships from farms in the Pacific Northwest. Last season, sellers suffered losses when hundreds went unsold, forcing them to give many trees away.

But this year, smaller orders caused a major shortage across the islands. Many major retailers sold out.

“Last year, a lot of places over-ordered,” said Dasha Nixon, a manager at the Wal-Mart on Maui, which brought in 200 fewer trees this year. “This year, it looks like they under-ordered.”

The tree salesman, Mele Kalikimaka Turner, insisted his price was fair for top-quality trees delivered week before Christmas.

“I am not gouging,” said Turner whose first name means “Merry Christmas” in Hawaiian. “It’s a fair price for the time and energy. There’s a lot involved in bringing a tree to Hawaii.”

But some customers rebelled.

“He thinks he’s got us because he’s got the trees. But we have the money, and maybe we won’t pay,” shouted Barbara Taylor of Honolulu.

One man, in desperation, gave up waiting in line and used his cell phone to order a tree from Colorado for $80 plus $145 for shipping. Another shopper purchased a 7-foot fir for $215.

Mike Swenson paid $185 for a 5- to 6-foot tree.

“I paid way too much,” he said.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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