Vermont-Based Christmas Tree Seller Prepares for Its Monthlong Sprint in New York City | True 802 | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Vermont-Based Christmas Tree Seller Prepares for Its Monthlong Sprint in New York City

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Published November 9, 2022 at 10:00 a.m.
Updated November 11, 2022 at 5:46 p.m.


A Christmas tree seller helping a customer - COURTESY OF UPTOWN CHRISTMAS TREES
  • Courtesy Of Uptown Christmas Trees
  • A Christmas tree seller helping a customer

Every year, a small army of Christmas tree sellers descends on the streets of New York City, transforming sidewalk corners into makeshift pine forests. Like Macy's window displays, the lots of trees are part of the quintessential holiday scene in the Big Apple. 

Many of the season's fir-slinging foot soldiers are Vermonters. "I don't hire New Yorkers," explained Jane Waterman, co-owner of Uptown Christmas Trees. "Most people from New York don't know how to deal with the cold for that long."

Uptown Christmas Trees — based in Hyde Park, Vt. — is one of two main Christmas tree companies that sell trees in the city. Waterman has been running the enterprise with her husband for more than 30 years. The couple sell about 20,000 trees — sourced from Nova Scotia, Québec, Vermont, Oregon and New Hampshire — between Thanksgiving and Christmas Day at 20 locations in Manhattan and the Bronx.

To make it all happen, the company relies on 50 employees, mostly Vermonters who return year after year. The hodgepodge team, which Waterman calls her "family," is made up of artists, musicians, carpenters, podcasters, firefighters and stonemasons who relocate to New York for one month of nonstop work. 

"There's something that's really exhilarating about being a part of this whole operation that blossoms out from nowhere," said Emily Velush, who worked her first season as a "night-shifter" last year. 

A night-shifter will make $5,000 for the month, plus tips. Managers make even more. The employees also get free housing in Harlem.

Velush described the experience as "magical." She became friendly with neighborhood regulars and delighted in the never-ending hum of city life. Velush especially enjoyed when passersby stopped to smell the trees, their faces relaxing with each breath.

But it's not all aromatic pine branches and Christmas magic. Workers put in 12-hour shifts with no days off for a month. Night-shifters work from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. It can be tedious, cold and exhausting.

And yet, tree sellers come back year after year. Velush doesn't necessarily see herself as a lifer, but she's excited to return this season as a manager. 

"Once you go down there, the rest of the world ceases to exist," Waterman explained. "It's a vacation so weird, we'll pay you to take it."

The original print version of this article was headlined "Urban Forest"