In light of reports and rumors that some Christmas trees sell for more than $200 in the Big Apple's tonier neighborhoods, DNAinfo's reporters took an informal poll of evergreen prices around the city.
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Some vendors seem to tailor their prices to a neighborhood's perceived trendiness and average income. For example, the average price for 6-foot balsam and douglas firs at 12 stands surveyed across the city was about $67. At Greg's Trees at the intersection of Manhattan and Driggs avenues in Williamsburg, the average price for such trees was $115, a whopping $48 more.
At the SoHo Trees stand in the West Village, "really big, rare trees are $300 or even $400 and up," said salesman David Stess.
It's not shocking to find inflated prices in an industry that's as unregulated as Christmas trees sales in New York City. A tree vendor needs no license to hawk his wares on the sidewalk; he's entitled to a "coniferous tree" exception adopted by the City Council in 1938 over the veto of Fiorello LaGuardia, a mayor intent on stamping out street peddlers.
Local administrative code allows that ''storekeepers and peddlers may sell and display coniferous trees during the month of December'' on a sidewalk as long as they secure the permission of owners whose stores front that sidewalk and keep a passageway open for pedestrians.
It's a different situation for vendors who want to sell their trees in city parks: they have to submit bids to the Parks Department for specific locations, and the vendor offering the highest fee wins the permit. Some tree sellers can pay as much as $56,000 for a month's access to parkland, according to agency data obtained by DNAinfo.
As for tracking tree retail prices, the National Christmas Tree Association, an industry trade group, said there's no effective way of doing so.
"Final retail prices vary greatly and can be influenced by many factors ... including size of tree, species, distance shipped, market demand, type of retailer and even day of the week," wrote NCTA executive director Rick Dungey in an email to DNAinfo.
According to a poll commissioned by the NCTA, participating consumers across the country paid an average of $39.50 for their real trees in 2014.
The height and origin of Christmas conifers inform their prices.
"The ones from Oregon are more expensive, the ones from North Carolina are pretty standard, and we have the balsams [firs] to keep it affordable and local," said Mark Speicher, 26, a blueberry farmer from Pennsylvania who is selling trees at a stand on 7th Avenue between 19th and 20th streets in Brooklyn for the fourth year in a row.
But as more and more tree-selling businesses — like Christmas Tree Brooklyn, run by a brother-and-sister team in Prospect Heights, and Park Slope's Foley Firs — develop websites that list prices and offer delivery services, the sidewalk Christmas tree stand could soon be on its way to obsolescence.