A Neighborhood Fixture Returns With Holiday Cheer and the Scent of Pine

By Mildred Alpern

After last year’s hiatus, Sebastien is back. He is a welcome holiday figure. Hailing from Quebec, he has brought the scent of pine to the Upper West Side neighborhood for the past eleven years minus one. His row of redolent fir trees takes up the block between 88th And 89th Street on the west side of Broadway. The flying pink pig is his recognizable symbol, straddling tree tops on high and glistening in the dark.

Housed in a camper van beside the Duane Reade drugstore, Sebastien partners with an assistant on their round the clock month-long job selling Christmas trees and holiday ornaments. The trees come in all sizes, from table-top to massive grand ones for accommodating ceilings. Such a tree almost thirteen feet high graces the lobby of my apartment building. The efforts to decorate it required a ladder, cautious care, and a sense of design. It was a joint effort by the super and the building assistants that transformed the tree and its accoutrements into a magical wonder.

Photos by Mildred Alpern.

COLUMNS, NEWS | 15 comments | permalink
    1. suzanne hines says:

      Oh that’s such a beautiful tree! Thanks for sharing.
      Happiest of holidays to you.

    2. Shirley Z says:

      Ahh sweet memories

    3. sam says:

      Nothing to do with Sebastien or holiday spirit, but if you know homeless Eddie from outside the church at 72 and Bway, you know he’s been out on the street again full time since his friend James died a few weeks ago. Last night, he says, he was asleep downstairs on the platform, trying to stay warm, and he got mugged. They took his phone and I don’t know what else. His face looks worse than usual. Says he went to the cops and their priority seemed to be to see if they had any outstanding warrants against him. Think of him when you see him.

      • UWSEd says:

        “Do not withhold help when it is within you to give it.”

        Thank you, Sam.

      • Carol G. says:

        Oh no! I speak with Eddie all the time (he’s in front of the church at 79th and Bway). I didn’t see him today. Thank you for letting us know. I’ll check in with him tomorrow.

      • lynn says:

        Could you tell me where the church is? Thanks.

      • A friend who grew up with him says:

        Just like to clarify, Eduardo (Eddie) is not homeless. He resides in the North Bronx with some roommates (James was one of them). He’s actually a very smart guy, born and raised in the neighborhood. Was one of the best DJs (spinning/mixing LPs) in the neighborhood growing up, worked as a tin-knocker, and overall an intelligent guy. He started hanging out with a bad crowd, got caught up with drugs, started stealing from family; rest is history. But he managed to get himself clean-up and lives a better life. He makes a pretty penny panhandling. He owned a Iphone X and was making his monthly payments.

        He panhandles, and gets a warm lunch at Holy Trinity on West 82nd street.

    4. Ellen Willmott says:

      A real tree? the fire department made my W. 86th St. building take down our last real tree years ago, and said something about only fake trees being allowed in public spaces.

      • lynn says:

        I’ve been to several buildings during the past 2 weeks that all had real trees in their lobbies. Not sure what the safety requirements are.

    5. West88 says:

      Although a great neighborhood fixture, HIS PRICES ARE INSANE! Congrats on your building grabbing a 13 footer which probably ran close to $400+. We get an 11 foot Fraser Fir every year, and every year I check this stand and he quotes $325+. I go down the street to 82nd and Amsterdam and get the same, high quality Fraser Fir FOR ONLY $100!! A little more of a walk, but why the huge price difference? Because he has a flying pig and quarky “organic” amd “gluten free” tree signs?!? I call “BAH HUMBUG!”

    6. Nev R. Inhaild says:

      Re: “…scent of pine to the Upper West Side neighborhood….”

      PINE??? 😱😳🤪

      PINE n. see “WackyWeed”, “Maui Wowie”, “Ganja”, et-cet-er-ahhhh

    7. Bill Williams says:

      Live trees in building lobbies are a huge no no. FDNY will come and ticket big time.

    8. Cato says:

      Whenever an article is posted here about cars, or more particularly about parking, a host of outraged voices protests the City’s “turning over” the streets to private citizens to “store their cars”.

      Other groups are up in arms about the improvements to the Museum of Natural History because building them will require the removal of a small number (5? 10? 15?) of trees.

      From Thanksgiving until Christmas, our sidewalks become impassible to accommodate these pop-up tree stores. The vendors market a product of no value to anyone other than those who adhere to one religious belief — but all of us have to side-step them.

      The trees they sell were living but were cut down — killed — to become “Christmas trees”.

      Then, the day after New Year’s Day (by which time the vendors have left), the streets become cluttered with the detritus as people cast off these once-living trees, finished with their momentary secular symbolism. There are probably more dead trees on any one Upper West Side block that the Museum will have to remove to make way for the new building.

      Of course, the City has to collect the dead trees and dispose of them, funded, of course, by the tax dollars of everyone, regardless of whether they subscribe to the religious beliefs that generated the tree-garbage.

      So, my questions are two:

      1. Why do the street-parking protestors not also protest the City’s turning the sidewalks over to these merchants?

      2. Why do the Museum-improvement protestors not also protest the wanton destruction of innumerable trees for the purpose of briefly observing a religious holiday?

      For whatever it’s worth, and before I’m attacked personally in the spirit of the day, I’m fine with the vendors. I recognize that I live among a large number of people with diverse cultures and widely varying needs — whether it’s celebrating Christmas or parking their cars on the streets. Sometimes that diversity requires me to step around a tree vendor so that someone else can buy a Christmas tree; I can do that. No big deal — enjoy your tree and have a happy holiday.

      I really just wonder where the protestors are. If they really believe what they say, why aren’t they speaking out here, too? Or does their silence suggest that there is another agenda going on?

      • Peter says:

        These Christmas tree are grown to be harvested each year. No different from a crop of corn or broccoli. So it is pretty silly to equate cutting down a Christmas tree with deforesttration