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Fined East Village Tree Vendor Quits Just Before Christmas

By Patrick Hedlund | December 23, 2010 2:16pm | Updated on December 23, 2010 5:02pm

By Patrick Hedlund

DNAinfo News Editor

EAST VILLAGE — A Christmas tree vendor who was hit with a pricey fine for erecting a shack on Second Avenue to keep his employees warm removed the makeshift structure just before the holiday to avoid further hassles.

Roger Baust, who has been selling trees and wreaths near East 10th Street since just after Thanksgiving, got slapped with a $1,500 summons from the Department of Transportation last week for keeping a "warm-up hut" on the sidewalk to shelter his staff from the cold.

"I'm just calling it quits because I just can't go on any further," said Baust, who's sold trees outside St. Mark's Church in the Bowery for the past six years without incident, adding the combination of fatigue and dealing with the city forced him to pack it in early.

"I usually stay there until Christmas Day."

A DOT spokesman confirmed that Baust only received one citation for his shack encroaching on a city sidewalk, but did not say whether he faced any additional penalties for keeping the structure there longer.

Baust added the agency told him he could face fines of up to $5,000 each day he allowed the shack to stay up if he decides to contest the summons.

That won't matter beyond Thursday when he took the shelter down, though Baust said he might continue to sell off the last of his wares from a car parked nearby.

"I don't want to alienate anyone else, I don't want to provoke anyone else," said the 30-year veteran vendor, who gets his trees from the Catskills upstate. "I want to vanish. I'm not really sure why there was such a stink about it, but I just want to disappear."

Baust explained that the Parks Department also approached him last week about some of his products intruding on the park area in front of the church, so he removed them and the agency left well enough alone.

He said he also got the blessing of the church, which he pays to rent the space, as well as greenmarket vendors who regularly set up in the park area.

Since DNAinfo originally reported Baust's predicament, he said many customers and neighbors had stopped by to show their support.

One man brought him and his crew a hot kielbasa platter, a woman baked them a cake, and another person dropped off a big bag of apples for the staff to munch on while working, Baust said.

"There's been a tremendous amount of positive feedback," he said, adding that a lawyer offered to write a letter on Baust's behalf, and that others wanted to start a petition to get the fine rescinded and even to attend his February court hearing regarding the citation.

"We do a nice job with the trees here."