The first sign of Christmas: scruffy French-Canadian tree peddlers on every corner. A few days ago I asked a bearded seller in Manhattan how much they were. “$120,” he said, pointing to a 5-footer. Really? Could I find one for cheaper in the better borough? I decided to investigate. I visited tree lots, big-box stores and street-corner stands around Brooklyn, including one specializing in organic trees, and priced trees in two heights: six feet and eight feet. As with everything, quality varies, and the rock-bottom, cheapest tree is probably not the best one, but it’s here, along with typical tree prices and services at each type of venue.
First, a few words on tree health and species. Regardless of price, you don’t want a sickly tree shedding all over your living room. Check that the branches are still pliable—try bending one just a little—and that you can run your hand along a branch without the needles falling off. In terms of the type of tree, Balsam Firs and Fraser Firs are most commonly sold on the streets. Balsams, generally the cheapest, are more fragrant, but Frasers are better for needle retention. I also saw some Scotch Pines, which are known for not drying out and for stiff branches that can withstand larger, heavier ornaments. Only at the larger tree lots did I find the more expensive White Pines, which maintain needles very well but have very little aroma and the lush, firm-branched Noble Firs from the Pacific Northwest. For more info on tree types, check the Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s fun guide.
STREET-CORNER TREE STANDS
Prices Expect to find some trees under $10 a foot. Anything under $6 a foot is a good deal.
I did a somewhat random price check in Park Slope, which has a particularly dense concentration. Most convenient to the Seventh Avenue Q/B station is DNY Natural Land (322 Flatbush Ave.), which has decent prices for a small stand. The 6-foot trees are $30 and up, while the 8-foot trees are $70 and up. Nearby, at the corner of Seventh Ave. and Park Place, 6-foot trees cost $50-$60, but they include free delivery, if the guy is available.
In my neighborhood of Flatbush, the local landscaping business, J & L (Caton and E. 7th St.) sold me an 8-foot tree for $45, which costs $75 to $80 elsewhere. They offered delivery, but not until the next day. Our local cheap car service, Mex Express (718-941-5200), charged us their normal cheap rates to get both us and the tree back to our apartment.
Pros They’re everywhere (Gothamist is keeping a map of them) and some offer cheap or free delivery. Some sellers are open to a little friendly haggling. Flirtation could work too, or at the very least a cup of hot cocoa or coffee.
Cons Limited selection, and trees are generally pre-wrapped, so you might wind up with a Charlie Brown Christmas tree, or one so wide it renders your living room uninhabitable. Some sellers don’t have a lot of knowledge about the trees they’re selling, so if you have something specific in mind, you might be better off finding it at a larger lot. Delivery can be spotty. Frequently cash only.
LARGE TREE LOTS
Prices Expect to find some trees at under $11 a foot. Under $6 a foot is a good deal.
By far, JJ’s Christmas Trees had the largest selection. Their Balsam trees are the most economical, at $35 and up for a 6-foot tree and $45 and up for an 8-foot tree. There is a wide variation in prices; one employee said that she always ends up spending about $150 on her 8-footer. The staff is well-trained and will work within your budget—just be aware that if you see a tree you’re absolutely in love with, it may not be as close to the $45 price tag you’d hoped for. JJ’s is not very close to the train, but they do deliver nearby for $15.
JJ’s has three locations: Dyker Heights (1305 86th St.) Bay Ridge (65th St. and Fourth Ave.) and Sheepshead Bay/Marine Park (Knapp St. and Avenue V). Dyker Heights is known for its over-the-top Christmas lights, so if you stop by this tree lot, take a walk around the neighborhood and check out the lights for a bonus free activity.
At AA Christmas Trees (Sheepshead Bay: Coney Island and Ave. Y; Bensonhurst: Bay Parkway and 66th) the 6-foot trees are $65 and up, while the 8-footers are $85 and up. I was told that haggling is not an option. They accept credit cards, which is a definite plus. They deliver for $10.
Pros They’re run by professionals who build up a clientele in the area and have a good reputation. The trees are on display so that you can actually see them. I give points to JJ’s Christmas trees for the variety of trees available and for the staff’s knowledge about the trees, as well as the tree-trimming shop next door. If you’re trying to find the tree that looks just the way you picture it, you will find it here. Ample nearby parking.
Cons So many kinds of trees means a wide range of prices. AA Christmas Trees had some of the highest starting prices of anywhere I looked at. If you’re using public transportation, you may have a hard time getting out to these lots. You should definitely get the tree delivered if you live more than a few blocks from the lot.
Prices All trees under eight feet are $10 a foot.
If you would prefer a tree that has never been sprayed with pesticides from a guy named Bucky, then Green in Vermont is the only game in town. All of the trees start at $10 a foot and go up once you get past seven feet. Deliveries are available for $10 within 12 blocks (after that you have to negotiate), and they will deliver for free to elderly or handicapped customers. There are several locations: Brooklyn Heights (Church of Saint Ann and the Holy Trinity, 157 Montague St. at Clinton), Park Slope (beside the Park Slope Food Co-op, Union St. between Sixth and Seventh Avenues), Cobble Hill (Carroll Gardens Christ Church, 326 Clinton St. at Kane), Clinton Hill (Cadman Church, 210 Lafayette Ave. at the corner of Clinton), Windsor Terrace (Holy Name of Jesus Baseball Field, 456 16th St. near Prospect Park West).
Pros Reasonable delivery, you know exactly where your tree is coming from, and you’re not bringing a plant covered in pesticides into your space. They emphasize freshness. Also, something unique to this seller is that all of the species of tree that they sell are the same price. You can get your Vermont maple syrup fix and handmade wreaths at these stands as well, for a high warm-and-fuzzy factor.
Cons Although $10 a foot isn’t outrageous, you sadly won’t be able to snag one of those $45 8-foot organic trees. You will be able to find a cheaper tree elsewhere, but you’re probably used to that if buying organic is important to you.
Prices Expect to find some trees under $7 a foot. Under $5 a foot is a good deal.
At Home Depot (550 Hamilton Ave., 5700 Ave. U, 585 Dekalb Ave., 2970 Cropsey Ave., 579 Gateway Dr.), you pretty much know what you’re getting in terms of shopping experience. Here, 6-foot trees averaged $40 while 8-footers cost $35, the cheapest I was able to find. They don’t deliver trees purchased from their stores, and if you order online, trees cost $119 for a 6-foot tree and $189 for an 8-foot tree, including delivery. Lowe’s (118 Second Ave.) had the cheapest 6-foot tree I found, for $24.98, while 7-8 foot trees were $44.98. They also have a huge line. The flat rate for Lowe’s delivery in Brooklyn is a whopping $79.
Pros If you are going entirely based on price, you will probably have the best luck at the big retailers. These stores are also car-friendly. Plus they sell accessories like extension cords and lights.
Cons Lowe’s gets you on the delivery price, and Home Depot doesn’t deliver at all. Don’t have a car or live near enough to the store to carry your tree home? It’ll hurt your wallet. Better to try a local car service if you shop at one of these stores.