The Secret Life of New York City Christmas Trees

The Secret Life of New York City Christmas Trees

(Photos: Summer Cartwright)

The concrete jungle is getting some added green this month, all thanks to the famous (or infamous, if they affect walking home at rush hour) Christmas tree and wreath vendors that line the city’s sidewalks.

Much like the city’s population, these vendors are transplants who come from all over (Alaska, North Carolina, upstate New York, Pennsylvania, etc.). With them they bring trees (ranging from $40 to $180 and princess to white pine), and other pine things (wreaths, branches, basically everything your mom would love to stock the living room with).

Some, like Rick Bishop, are yearlong street vendors that swap their usual goods or add some additional items for Christmas cheer. Others kind of just appear, as Bishop puts it, “as soon as the leftover turkey is gone.”

While it might seem odd to buy a Christmas tree off of the street on your way home from a Beyonce-themed kickboxing class, it’s one of the few options New Yorkers have when living in Manhattan — unless they’re ready and willing to shove a six footer through subway doors.

Bishop’s been coming to the Union Square Greenmarket for more than 30 years, and started bringing princess pine wreaths along with his potatoes (in chip, laratte, baby fingerling, German butterball and purple Peruvian forms) come November.

What’s selling this year?

Burlap bows, which Bishop and employee Maria Muller say seem to show a minimalistic trend for 2018.

Their pines come from Mountain Sweet Berry Farm in the Catskills Mountains upstate, and come in a bunch of different sets. The most popular (and most able bodied to be squashed into a suitcase to bring home for holidays) is the 12-inch wreath, which costs $38 and can last for years, he says, so long as you don’t mind the yellow color it’ll turn.

Bishop says his booth sells hundreds and hundreds of wreaths and pine displays, which, for $20 to $400 in price depending on size, makes the case for street tree vendors even more understandable. On top of that, these sellers don’t have to buy street permits.

Somewhere deep within a New York City ordinance, there’s a Christmas Clause (get it?). According to a Newsday article, this legislation basically gives anyone with a tree free range to sell it anywhere.

When the holidays go away, so too will the sidewalk vendors, but like the time it takes to shed away the December weight, they’ll stick around for a little while after the new year, Bishop says.

He said most people who sell do so until the last tree goes, so if you’re a grinch about the added roadblocks, ba humbug your way to Martha’s Vineyard until January.

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Written by Punchland Staff

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