A Christmas tree market in front of the Barclay Street Station circa 1895. Photo via the Library of Congress
The convenience of walking to the corner bodega and haggling for a Christmas tree is something most of us take for granted, but this seasonal industry is one that actually predates Christmas’ 1870 establishment as a national holiday and continues to be a one-of-a-kind business model today. In fact, in 1851, a tree stand set up for $1 at the west side’s Washington Market became the nation’s very first public Christmas tree market, the impetus behind it being a way to save New Yorkers a trip out of town to chop down their own trees. Ahead, find out the full history of this now-national trend and how it’s evolved over the years.
The roots of the Christmas tree industry
A Christmas tree stand at 6th Avenue and 14th Street. Image: 6sqft
Each year in December, scores of Christmas tree vendors descend on New York City from as far as Quebec to turn the city’s sidewalks into a virtual pop-up forest. What makes this seasonal opportunity so appealing? The “coniferous tree” exception, a City Council law dating from 1938, says vendors can sell and display Christmas trees on a sidewalk in December without a permit as long as they get an ok from adjacent building owners and they don’t block the sidewalk. Sellers lobby adjacent storefronts for permission, sometimes paying a fee and often in competition with other sellers. This year, as the New York Times reports, competition from chain stores–and other vendors jockeying for prime spots in parks and other public locations that come with high fees–are chopping into the profits for the army of tree sellers that descends on the city at holiday time. Costs get passed to consumers–and prices are soaring.
Why trees are demanding more green this year
For traditionalists who relish the ritual of bringing home the perfect evergreen, the idea of any man-made alternative has little appeal. But just as many tree-seekers are happy to anchor their December decor with a Christmas tree that doesn’t shed and doesn’t need to be sent to the curb when the season’s over. The options are as varied as the reasons we love them: Some literally take up no space, perfect for tiny apartments. Others are perfectly modern, rustic, retro or Nordic to reflect the style of their owners. Below are 15 fun, festive, sustainable and re-usable alternatives to pine and fir.
deck the halls, this way
On December 21, 1912, a 60-foot-tall tree arrived by horse-drawn truck from the Adirondacks to provide Manhattan’s Madison Square Park with the glow of 2,300 colored electric bulbs. The twinklers were donated by the Edison Company, and the tree was the first of its kind: Having a Christmas tree in one’s living room was a familiar custom, but a tree outside in a public park was something new.
Get the whole history right this way
$1,000, as the Post notes, could pay for more than 600 meals for the homeless at the Bowery Mission, or 25 holiday gifts for in-need New Yorkers through the Winter Wishes program. It could also get you an “exotic” white fir Christmas tree off the street in Greenwich Village. Sixteen-year tree saleswoman Heather Neville, who runs a stand at Seventh Avenue and 11th Street, is charging $77 per foot for a 13-foot tree, which equals $750. Add to that a $200 stand, $25 delivery and setup fee, and $20 for the three men doing the job, and you’ve got yourself a four-figure Christmas tree.
If you think this is bad, just wait
Our ongoing series Apartment Living 101 is aimed at helping New Yorkers navigate the challenges of creating a happy home in the big city. This week we’ve rounded up some alternative holiday tree ideas for those living in tight spaces.
While you could buy a Charlie Brown tree, or try ask to have a few feet knocked off that pine when you hit the register, if you’re a small space dweller who wants a more eco-friendly holiday arbol this year, there are plenty of options for you beyond the classic artificial fir (which fyi is even more environmentally unsound than chopping down an evergreen thanks to the carcinogens produced during manufacturing and disposal). From edible trees to LED pines to DIY options that smell just as good as the real thing, 6sqft has searched high and low for 10 different types of sustainable Christmas tree alternatives to jazz your apartment up with this year—and years to come.
ten alternative ideas here
Just like real estate, the price of a Christmas tree will vary significantly depending on which neighborhood you center your search. DNA Info recently conducted a reader poll to find which local tree dealers are gouging evergreen buyers and which are keeping with a more charitable holiday spirit. Pollsters zoomed in on several neighborhoods across Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens and found some major price disparities even when it came to minor details like whether a vendor was set up on a street corner or just a typical stretch. Just check out the $50 price difference at two Williamsburg locales ahead…
have a closer look at their findings
- 25 percent of all subway trains are late, up 6 percent from last year. How ya feeling about that MTA price hike now? [Daily News]
- Legendary East Village Italian bakery Veniero’s is giving out free butter cookies to celebrate its 120th birthday on Thursday. [DNAinfo]
- The Living Christmas Tree Co. lets you rent live trees…we need to bring this to NYC. [Tree Hugger]
- Here’s a look at James Dean’s New York City bachelor pad from 1953. [Airows]
- Ten of NYC’s former prisons. [Untapped]
Images: Via wwward0 via photopin (L); Via jpellgen via photopin cc (R)
Yesterday, we rounded up the massive Christmas trees around the city for those of you looking for an alternative to Rockefeller Center. But we’re sure this isn’t going to stop a lot of die-hard holiday revelers from heading over to midtown and gawking at the world’s most famous Christmas tree. So, we want to know what your plans are.
Images: Via Sister72 via photopin cc (L); Via Gray Line New York (R)
New York Stock Exchange Christmas tree via Mille Fiori Favoriti
Last week, we took a look back at the history of the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree to mark the annual lighting celebration. Though this is probably the most famous Christmas tree in the world, many of us jaded New Yorkers would rather not deal with the crowds and traffic jams that come with visiting Rock Center. So as an equally festive alternative, we’ve rounded up some of the other huge trees illuminating the city this holiday season.