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ROB MAGAZINE

Shady trees

Arnaud (who preferred we not use his last name) was one of hundreds of Quebeckers hawking trees on the streets of New York last December. The 23-year-old Montrealer saw the job posting on Craigslist and was taken with the idea of becoming one of the "real tree men" who take over the city's sidewalks each year.

For New Yorkers, buying a fresh fir or pine from a corner stand is as much a holiday tradition as a trip to Macy's Santaland. But back in 1938, Mayor Fiorello La Guardia cracked down on mostly immigrant street vendors, hoping to clean up a black market that had been bustling since the second half of the 19th century. Christmas trees were caught up in the sweep, and residents weren't happy. And so city council enacted the "coniferous tree exception," allowing permitless peddlers to sell trees on the city's sidewalks each December. The only conditions: that they get permission from any adjacent businesses and leave a path for pedestrians.

New York charges a leasing fee for each stand, with bidding wars for the best spots. Arnaud's post was among the most expensive, costing its U.S. operator upwards of $50,000 (U.S.) over five years. It was manned 24/7, with Arnaud and his co-workers sleeping in a nearby RV. He and his compatriots prefer to remain anonymous, he says, since most have no visa, and the business isn't "totally legal and regulated." Nonetheless, he'll be back hawking trees this December.

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