LAKEVIEW — Nearly 650 Christmas trees have popped up on poles across the neighborhood — and the business association that put them there had good intentions.
Central Lakeview Merchants Association plans to give away the trees on Dec. 21 after they're done being used as holiday decorations, with the idea that people who can't afford trees will be able to have one for Christmas.
"We noticed everybody sticks to the red garland," said Jeff Briggs, who works in business relations at the group. "We wanted to think outside the box."
But the 6-foot trees, which were tied two-to-a-pole by company Patch Landscaping, have received mixed reactions as decorations.
Many residents and visitors said they look ripe for theft. And without any trimmings — aside from a small bow at the top of some — the trees almost look like they're intended for trash pick-up, some people said.
At night, they become "sad, hulking beasts" without lights to brighten them, said Lakeview resident Amalie Drury, 35. One woman even said the bare trees look like "perfect" targets for passing dogs to pee on.
"It's kind of festive, but it's also kind of sad," Drury said. "It kind of looks like a Christmas tree lot. Like sad, chopped-down trees."
Raquel Laureano, 39, said she didn't notice the decorations until her son pointed them out, saying it looked like someone had discarded the trees.
"Decorations would give it more of a Christmas feel," said Laureano, who was visiting Lakeview from Avondale.
But others said they thought the trees made the neighborhood more festive, even as they questioned potential thievery. With the weekend's soft snowfall, many of the trees maintained a lining of white fluff on their branches — a bit of a de facto decoration.
"It looks like a winter wonderland," said Nick Raef, 19, a Northwestern University student visiting Lakeview with a friend.
"I love them," said resident Amanda Desmond, 26, whose Sheffield Avenue residence is near several of the trees. "It reminded me of Christmas. I jokingly told my boyfriend that we should steal one."
The business association bought the 644 trees from Patch Landscaping, with a $45 value each, for the promotion, Briggs said. Central Lakeview Merchants also uses property tax money from special service area No. 17, though executive director Gus Isacson refused to say whether the trees were paid for by tax money or not.
"People are getting a free tree," Isacson said. "What do they care where the money comes from?"
And despite talk of thievery, Briggs said nobody has stolen a tree in the two weeks they've been up. One tree got separated from a pole, but it was immediately reaffixed, he said.
Folks still in need of a Christmas tree can pick up a free one at either Lakeview's Houndstooth, 3369 N. Clark St., or Uptown's Baker and Nosh, 1303 W. Wilson Ave., from noon-7 p.m. on Dec. 21.