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A 20-foot Christmas tree can cost $6,500 in New York City

When is the best day to buy a Christmas tree?

Christmas tree shoppers might experience sticker shock this year, with a shortage of tannenbaums sending average evergreen prices up more than $5 over the Black Friday weekend to almost $85 nationwide, according to data from the payment app Square.

Then there are the 20-foot-plus trees that can run as much as $6,500 in downtown New York. A price in that range could even be considered a bargain by some locals, once the costs of freight, delivery, installation and decorating are considered. 

"We have so much overhead before we even get that tree on the ground [in Manhattan]," said Scott Lechner, who manages the Soho Trees lot on the corner of Varick and Canal streets. 

Other experts agree it's reasonable for sellers to charge thousands of dollars for trees that measure 20 feet and up — which take decades to grow — especially if they are high-quality and have made their way to New York City. 

"If you are cutting down a tree that size and hauling it hundreds of miles and setting it up, it can get into that ballpark," said Doug Hundley, a spokesperson for the National Christmas Tree Association.

Added Tim O'Connor, the association's executive director: "It's like buying a car or house — it really depends on what you are buying and where you are buying it."

So, what's in the price of a $6,500 Christmas tree?

Lechner said he's sold a few giant firs this season, including a 24-footer to a longtime Manhattan customer for $6,500. 

"I sold it to a very good client of mine, and frankly, at $6,500, I gave him a break. It should have been maybe $7,500 or $8,000," he said. "We maybe took 15% or 20% on the deal if we made any profit at all."

Trees typically cost about one-third of what they sell for, Lechner said. Other costs incurred by sellers include their freight, delivery and installation and decoration.

Lechner estimated it cost about $500 to ship the 24-foot tree from North Carolina. It's not uncommon for truckers to slap an additional fee of $1,000 on their delivery charge just to enter the borough of Manhattan. 

"The tree is $2,500 before I even take it out of the truck," he said. "Then you add on all the other expenses like delivery, installation and scaffolding for the decorators' safety."

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A team of seven — including a foreman who oversaw the process for safety — installed the tree, one of Soho Trees' marquee firs this year. Four decorators toiled 80 combined hours stringing it with 9,000 LED lightbulbs and hanging ornaments.

"Decorators get paid very well — they make three times minimum wage and up," Lechner said. "It's a lot of manpower hours."

Insurance is built into the tree's price too: Soho Trees guarantees its product's freshness through Christmas Eve. "It doesn't happen often, but even if the client has mistreated them by putting them by a radiator, or their German Shepherd knocks it down and it dies on them, we will replace their tree," Lechner said. 

Also included: A $500 steel stand to ensure it remains upright.

This particular $6,500 tree will spend the month of December in a residential townhouse's skylit foyer. 

Although Lechner said he doesn't make much profit selling the biggest trees, doing so "gives us panache, bragging rights, a strut in our step." 

His tree lot sits in the city's wealthiest ZIP code — 10013 — and he prides himself on selling to the rich and famous, including about 500 unnamed celebrity and Wall Street patrons. "I don't mind making money of off their needs," he said.

Soho Trees also caters to everyday New Yorkers, too. "We make more profit on our four-, five-, six-, seven-, eight-, nine-footers," Lechner said, noting that a four-foot tree retails for about $39 at his lot.

Fewer trees available nationwide this year

Both wholesale and retail prices are up this year due across the U.S. to a smaller supply of trees dating back to the 2008 recession, when growers were reluctant or unable to invest in planting seedlings amid the financial crisis. 

"With tighter demand, prices are naturally going to go up," O'Connor of the National Christmas Tree Association said. 

Tree growers and sellers aren't "the type" that price gouge, he added: "It's not that type of business. Growers spend 10 years growing trees and they are committed to the business." 

The big tree that sold for $6,500 has a "brother" that remains on display at Soho Trees. It has been trimmed to just over 20-feet, and has already been strung with about 9,000 LED lights. 

It could be a good time to get a discount. The two busiest tree shopping periods — Black Friday Weekend and the one the follows — have already passed. "When you get to this date, the retailer may be willing to cut a little bit of a deal," Hundley said. 

Indeed, Lechner said his remaining giant is available at a discount: "It would be a bargain at $6,000."

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