Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Another holiday season with Jonathan, the cheery Christmas-tree salesman of 1st Avenue

[Ben and Jonathan]

Article and photos by Steffi Veizen, who takes a look at one of the Christmas tree vendors in the East Village this season.

Jonathan gives street vendors a good name here outside the Rite Aid on First Avenue at East Fifth Street.

Working the Christmas tree circuit on and off for the past six years, Jonathan is friendly and constantly smiling, although some of his customers don't seem to appreciate the Canadian native's cheery nature.

He sleeps in his rental truck and alternates shifts with Ben, his business partner. Jonathan's plywood shed is decorated with cardboard stars, topped with pine branches, carpeted and wallpapered with trippy iridescent (wrapping?) paper. A small heater helps keep the space toasty.

On a recent visit, Jonathan handled an indecisive, pain-in-the-ass customer with patience and grace, repeating the prices to her and catering to her hyperactive daughter. He cut about an inch off the bottom of the tree, telling the girl why and showing her how to count the rings on the cross section.

"Your tree is about 17 years old," he tells her with a smile. He makes most people around him look pretty Grinchy.

"Not everyone is difficult, although some people are," Jonathan said. "Some people try to bargain with me, and insult me when I don't comply."

Jonathan works for the generic-sounding company Evergreen and earns his money entirely on commission, so he's not in the position to give any discounts.

"I used to get angry, but not anymore," he said.

Any interesting customer stories to share?

"I had to leave my trees once and a man took a stand, gave the money to the shoe repair store, and left his phone number in case he owed me more … He came back and paid me the rest of what he owed me."

The job ends for Jonathan and Ben tomorrow. From there he said the trees will be collected and sold to the Russian Orthodox community, who celebrates Christmas on Jan. 7. Any leftover trees will be sent to the Department of Sanitation's treecycling extravaganza Mulchfest.


Anonymous said...

He's the best.

CHurt said...

He's nice, but the trees are a little expensive. And that music goes on allllll night.

g whiz said...

I got my tree from him this year during one of our ugly rainy cold nights. A woman buying a tiny 3 foot tree decided at the last minute to bail on the sale when her boyfriend called and told her that the supermarket had cheaper trees. How much cheaper did she think she could get a tiny tree? 5 bucks? This was after he had wrapped it up and cut the trunk. She just walked away and of course while this was happening two ladies from the area asked him what his prices were and proceeded to lecture him about how he was too expensive. He just smiled and mentioned the quality and variety of his trees versus the cheaper trees. I really like this guy and his vibe. Glad he made the EVGreive "Nice" list this year!

Anonymous said...

I prefer the more interesting lady tree salespeople from previous years. Got bad vibe from this guy, not that I ever buy a tree - I just think the ladies are friendlier and more interesting, it didn't seem like they sold any trees, so I mustn't have been alone, and though they were here as long as usual, I avoided walking by because I wasn't interested, so it seems to have gone by quicker this time. I think the little house they built was uninspired, and didn't compare to the former crustier lived in shelter from the years before. There was no soul this year. Hint to Christmas tree overlords, bring back the interesting and friendly albeit slightly crusty girls, you'll sell more trees. Was somewhat heartbreaking to see all the unsold trees piled up on Christmas day.