For many New Yorkers, buying a Christmas tree from a street side vendor is part of the holiday tradition, much like that snowy scene in “When Harry Met Sally,” when Sally negotiates a price for a tree and then hauls it back to Harry’s apartment. For those living in the West Village, however, the tradition probably includes a visit to the Romp Family Christmas Trees Stand at the corner of Eighth Avenue and Jane Street.
Twenty six years ago, on the advice of an entrepreneurial friend, Vermont tree farmers Billy and Patti Romp took a leap of faith and drove their camper with three children and a dog down to New York City to sell Christmas trees. They parked their temporary home at the corner of Jane Street and Eighth Avenue where they set up operations, staying open around the clock from the day after Thanksgiving through Christmas Eve. The surrounding Jane Street community welcomed their presence, treating the newly-arrived family as neighbors. One neighbor even went so far as to move Billy into her home when he contracted the flu, aiding him back to good health. In the years since, local businesses and residences have offered the family additional support, including providing a phone line, fuel, bathroom access and hot meals. Across the street, the building’s landlord set up a power line to provide electricity for the family’s camper. Jane Street Tavern has provided sandwiches for the family, and the restaurant Bonsignour also prepares meals, including their own Christmas Eve Dinner just before they head home to Vermont.
In a 1997 article about street-side Christmas tree vendors, The New York Times described the Romps as different than their competitors, writing “…many vendors are single people and are likely to be here this year, gone the next… the Romps have become a treasured part of the neighborhood’s Christmas celebration.” When the Times asked Henry Sembler, a retired public relations professional living on Horatio Street, to describe the Romps, he responded: ”They’re just lovely people. They’ve created a little niche in the hearts of the people here. I look forward to seeing them each Christmas season, watching the kids grow up.”
In 1998, Billy published a book Christmas on Jane Street detailing his family business’ charmed relationship with Greenwich Village. Romp writes, “We try to create a little Vermont Village in Greenwich Village, an oasis of goodwill and greenery amid the city chaos and acres of asphalt.” The family business is known for its service, engaging with customers and selecting trees and wreaths to meet their specific needs. Beyond the day-to-day sales, the family makes sure to spread their Vermont holiday cheer, decorating their own Christmas tree and displaying it proudly on the corner. Billy is also known to hail cabs for morning commuters when he’s not busy tending to customers.
The family business still exists today, though changed, much like the neighborhood it serves. Patti and Billy Romp separated in 2008. Patti extended the business to a space on Montague Street in Brooklyn Heights where she currently works. Billy established six other sites in the city, although he and his son can still be found selling their trees on Jane Street, keeping the neighborhood holiday tradition alive.