It was 4 p.m. on Christmas Eve, and all the trees for sale at Grand and Clinton Streets were $20—down from $250 just days ago. That didn't stop New Yorkers from haggling.
“We got all kinds of offers,” Charlie, one of the treesellers, told Gothamist, as he and his three companions were breaking down their stand. “They’re like, ‘Ten dollars! Five dollars!’ One offered us nine dollars for a small tree.”
Charlie, who is from Montreal and declined to give us his last name, added, “I don’t work for nine dollars! No one works for nine dollars!”
Billy Romp, whose family has been selling trees at Jane Street and Eighth Avenue since 1988, described his Christmas Eve clientele as “mostly procrastinators.”
“They’re asking if it’s so late, can they bargain,” Romp said. “My answer is, ‘No. If you don’t have a tree by now, you’re the one that’s in the poor position. I’ve got trees and you don’t have one. There’s only a few hours left.’”
Romp added, “I give 'em a deal anyway, you know?”
There are some families in Romp's neighborhood who wait until late on Christmas Eve to get their trees.
“Their tradition is to put their children to bed, when there’s no decorations in the house, and then go out and get the tree, and decorate and do the presents so the kids wake up to that,” Romp said. “That’s a tradition that they must still keep even if the kids are grown up, because they’ve been doing it for 25 years.”
Jason Arnow, who was sitting at a Soho Trees outpost near Hudson and West Houston streets, said that Christmas Eve “is the worst day” for dealing with aggressive bargain hunters. Arnow said he had sold two trees, including one six-footer for $75 that would normally cost $175, but that the season was over.
“I’m just waiting for the truck to come take the trees to Coney Island,” Arnow said. “We sell them there for Russian Christmas.” (Christmas falls on January 7 in the Eastern Orthodox calendar.)
Susie Gagnon, who is from Quebec City, has been selling trees at Hudson and Christopher streets for five years. If approached by a bargain hunter, Gagnon said, “We’ll dance a little bit,” but her trees are too valuable to give away.
“We still can make money mulching them so I’m not going to waste the tree away. We mulch them and sell them for landscaping and parks,” Gagnon said, adding that this year's sales were noticeably down. “Everybody’s away this year. It’s a little different. Especially today.”
Up the street, Billy Romp said that “every year we do a little better,” and 2019 was no exception. “We tend to increase just a little bit every year, like inflation. I think we might beat inflation this year.”
In front of St. Mark’s Church in the East Village, a group of men packing up a long row of trees were too busy to speak to a reporter. “No time, sorry,” they said, slinging trees into the back of a U-Haul. (The city also ends up mulching a lot of unsold stock. More than 200,000 trees were collected last year, according to the Department of Sanitation.)
The treesellers on Houston and Essex streets had already packed up and left by late afternoon, but they left a few trees near the curb, and a massive tree on the southeast corner.
Stephen White approached the big tree with a pair of pliers.
“I came by here the other night. This Christmas tree place was different than the one last year—they had all their prices programmed into a tablet—and they said this was $600,” White explained. “And now they’re just leaving it?”
White said he and his wife held off on getting a tree for their East Second Street apartment and regretted it.
“We have a deck and all of our neighbors have gotten used to us putting the tree outside. And the neighbors above us just had a baby and their whole family’s in town and I’m like, you know what, I’ve been looking at this tree on the corner forever.”
He added, “We’re gonna attempt to take it. We’re gonna fucking save Christmas right now!”