For the past 38 years “Greg’s Trees” has been spreading the holiday cheer and supplying joyful New Yorkers with Christmas trees.
Greg Walsh started the business, selling trees from a small stand on a Brooklyn street corner — but he’s grown the idea, and now, he runs some of the largest tree stands in New York City.
“I love doing it,” Walsh said. “I love meeting the families and the kids coming in, they are so excited. We try to make every sale a fun experience and we work hard for it.”
Walsh’s five unique stands, located throughout the city, provide much more than Christmas trees. His stands feature crafts, hand-painted Christmas cut-outs for photo-ops, sleds, wooden reindeer, visits from Santa and holiday markets with custom wreaths, decorations, centerpieces, ornaments, lights and tree toppers.
“Nobody’s got what we’ve got in New York,” said Eric Kang, one of Walsh’s crew members who helps manage the tree stands and sell trees.
But before Walsh started selling trees in the winter, he was selling fruit at in Manhattan during the middle of the summer.
Walh, 19, started selling fruit over the summer after his freshman year at the State University of New York at New Paltz. When the summer was over, he went back to school for one semester, before dropping out 25 credits into his business degree.
He sold fruit full-time for the next 12 years.
The heat rising off the city streets during the Manhattan summer pushes most people inside. But not Walsh. He didn’t mind the heat or waking up before dawn to unload the trucks of fruit.
“Not a minute of that entire 12 years did I wish the day was quicker,” Walsh said. “I wished that it was longer. I enjoyed every minute of it, and it was brutal work.”
Three years into selling fruit in the summer and pumpkins in the fall, Walsh decided to sell Christmas trees come November.
During that first season, in 1983, Walsh sold trees with his partners from two “winky dinky little stands” in Brooklyn and Queens, he said. But just four years later, they were running eight stands. In 1995 Walsh went back to school to become a school teacher and taught special education classes to 18 and 19 year-olds. For ten years he only ran one stand, but he never stopped selling trees.
This year, Walsh has a new stand at Domino Park in Williamsburg where 2,000 trees will fill the parking lot by Friday, making it one of Walsh’s largest tree stands ever. On December 5, there will be a tree lighting of a 20-foot tree and visits from Santa and other holiday characters.
“We’re doing more than we’ve ever done, and I think people are going to like it,” Walsh said. “We have great trees, and it’s really going to be something special.”
Walsh sells balsam, fraser, silver, nordmann and noble trees. A chalkboard at the tree stand in Domino Park describes the different types of trees. The balsam is traditional and fragrant while the fraser is the most popular and the silver is the “next big thing.”
Walsh is the go-to tree-man. But for a few days out of the year, he doubles as Santa Clause.
On some of the busiest days of the year for Christmas tree sales, Walsh isn’t in his truck driving from stand to stand to check on his crew. He is sitting in a wooden sleigh chanting “Ho, Ho, Ho.”
“I put the Santa suit on and get in the sled and everything just runs,” Walsh said.
In past years, Walsh always tried to have Santa come to his stands. One year, the hired Santa didn’t show up. Everyone looked at Walsh whose long white beard and jolly smile only meant one thing. Ever since, Walsh has grown out his beard for the Christmas tree season so he can dress as St. Nick and entertain the crowds who gather at his stands.
Santa’s little helpers
Walsh is a one man company until the season begins. He visits tree farms in Quebec, the Blue Ridge Mountains, Washington State and Oregon to tag trees and look at fields. Then he finds the truckers.
Five trailer loads of trees arrived in the city this week to deliver Walsh’s trees.
The Domino Park stand in Williamsburg opened on Nov. 17. The stands on the Lower East Side at ABC Playground, Park Slope at Greenwood Beer Garden, McCarren Park and at The Springs in Greenpoint opened on Nov. 24.
The Domino Park stand is open until midnight. The other four stands are open 24/7. Walsh has a crew of people from across the United States and even Canada who come to New York to help him set up and manage the stands. Many of the members come back year after year.
“It’s always like a reunion every time we come back,” said crew member Shaun Nakamine.
Nakamine has helped Walsh sell trees at his stands for four years. He has been staying in a trailer at the Domino Park tree stand since Nov. 15 to get the trees, tents, decorations, Christmas cut-outs, lights and holiday market set up. Nakamine will stay in the trailer until Christmas Eve along with two other crew members.
“It’s a side gig that’s very different from a normal job,” Nakamine said. “It’s a month of living in a new place and a little adventure in the city without having the same hustle and bustle.”
Two thin mattresses rest on top of cots, one lays on the floor. Cold pizza sits in a box on the counter. Christmas lights line the window. The trailer doesn’t have any running water. At each tree stand location, Walsh has a group of three to four people who camp in trailers like this one all season, ready to make a sale early in the morning or even in the middle of the night.
The crew likes to call it “urban camping.”
Nakamine said it’s better to be on site because they are so busy. The crew normally sells over 100 trees a day. They deliver trees by bike and truck to people’s homes. Nakamine has biked over a mile to deliver a tree.
In another trailer at the Domino Park stand, cardboard boxes filled with snow-dusted pine cones and gold, silver and red ornaments are stacked floor-to-ceiling. Alfiya Amirova works at a table in the corner. She sticks thin white tree branches into a sage green wreath and arranges the pine cones and berries around its border. She’s precise and quick, knowing exactly where the next decoration will go.
Amirova is a freelance florist who has been making custom holiday wreaths for Greg’s Trees for over a decade. She’s known Walsh for 15 years and used to make flower arrangements for him on Valentines Day, Mother’s Day and Easter. The two met in Walsh’s hometown in Queens, at Amirova’s flower stand.
“Greg asked me if I could do Christmas. I said, ‘Of course I can do Christmas, I can do anything,’” Amirova said. Adding, “It’s easy if you have an understanding of color and composition.”
But Amirova spends hours creating each wreath to make them “perfect,” she said. She said she loves working on the wreaths because her work makes people happy.
Across the lot, other crew members stack trees, lights and tools into a U-Haul to take to the other tree stands.
“Load it up boys,” Eric Kang yells to the crew members.
Kang lives in Quebec, Canada. Eight years ago, he saw an ad on Craigslist to join Walsh’s crew. Every winter he’s been coming to New York to work at the McCarren Park tree stand on Driggs Avenue in Williamsburg ever since.
“I’m always seeing the same people every year, and the kids are growing up. The cool part is seeing that, and the trees are growing too,” Kang said. “It’s not just a commercial holiday, it’s about building relationships and being a part of the community.”
Kang is Walsh’s right-hand-man and helps oversee the crew.
“I try to do things the way I would see Greg would want them done. He’s generous, he’s funny, he’s one of a kind, he’s Santa Clause,” Kang said.
A version of this story first appeared on amNewYork.