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The curious life of urban Christmas tree sellers
Have you ever wondered what these holiday street retailers do about sleeping and bathroom breaks?
"The cold is the biggest challenge," says Nicole Wessely, who has been selling Christmas trees on a New York City street since November.
"The cold is the biggest challenge," says Nicole Wessely, who has been selling Christmas trees on a New York City street since November. (Amy Kraft)
D

uring November and December, New York City bustles with families shopping for presents, tourists ice skating around outdoor rinks, and of course, Christmas tree sellers mesh-wrapping gorgeous pines.

Bundled up in scarves and buried in puffy coats, these street retailers probably barely register on your radar. And even if you do notice them, it's easy to just assume these folks are lumberjacks in disguise who chopped the trees down from the most beautiful forests in the world just to sell them to cooped-up city dwellers eager for some woodsy Christmas cheer.

Well, that's not so. And the truth is far more interesting.

Nicole Wessely cuts the trunk of a pine for a customer. (Amy Kraft)

Christmas tree selling is a $1 billion business and first started in New York in 1851 when entrepreneur Mark Carr brought two sleds worth of pine trees from the Catskills to Manhattan to sell. Today, sellers and Christmas tree companies from all over the country and Canada descend upon the Big Apple to claim a street corner from which to sell their pines. Some people sell the trees themselves, but most hire temporary employees. The job attracts people from all over the world. It is, however, mostly adventurous types who can handle working 12-hour shifts in inclement weather, sleeping in a van parked on the side of the road, and going extended periods of time without a bathroom break or a shower. Not as majestic as Santa's workshop, but some people like it.

People like Austrian Nicole Wesseley, who has been camping out on the corner of Broadway and 84th Street since November 20 selling Christmas trees. To hear about Nicole's adventures, listen to the podcast below.

Amy Kraft is a print and radio reporter based in New York. She reports on science and the environment for publications including Scientific American, Discover, Popular Science, Psychology Today, and Distillations, a podcast out of the Chemical Heritage Foundation. She is currently working on a book of humor essays. You can check out more of her writing on her blog Jaded Bride.

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