EAST VILLAGE — Customers who flocked to St. Mark's Church on the Bowery in search of Christmas trees are mourning the death of a Christmas tree vendor who was hit with a violation from the city for trying to keep warm inside a makeshift shack on Second Avenue last year.
Roger Baust, who lived in the Catskills region, died at age 64 on Sep. 16 at Margaretville Hospital, according to the medical records department at the hospital.
Baust had occupied the spot in front of St. Mark’s Church-in-the-Bowery for five seasons before he was handed a $1,500 summons by the Department of Transportation a week from Christmas accusing Baust of blocking the sidewalk. The fine was ultimately dimissed in February, said a spokesperson from the Environmental Control Board.
“His brother called to tell us he would not be here this year,” said Jimmy Fragosa, a 51-year-old sexton at St. Mark’s in the Bowery church who rented Baust the lucrative spot on Second Avenue and East 10th Street. The hospital would not release the cause of death, and Baust's obituary in the Catskills Mountain News did not mention it either.
“He wasn’t in great health,” said Fragosa, who said he saw Baust limping a lot last season. “Sitting all day, standing all day - it can take a lot out of you.”
The fine from the DOT was for a temporary structure on the sidewalk to give his staff periodic breaks from the cold while selling trees. Baust, who had sold trees for over 30 years, decided to leave the spot within days of Christmas, instead choosing to sell his remaining trees out of a nearby car.
Now that Baust is gone, another vendor has taken up the spot with many locals asking where he went.
“About a fourth of our customers have asked about him,” said Kevin Melendez, a 24-year-old New Jersey resident who never met Baust. He said Baust was something of a legend to him and his two co-workers, and drew a strong return customer base.
Melendez's partner in the stand, Edward Chin-Lyn, said many friends and customers took Baust's death hard.
One building superintendent was crestfallen when he learned of the passing, Chin-Lyn said.
“I had to tell him the news,” said the 25-year-old East Village actor. “He took it pretty hard.”