In the hood -- On-line only

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My Neighborhoods pages were held from today's paper because Tim Novak broke big news broke on the Mayor Daley from — his son Patrick had a secret deal with City Hall. .

So rather than leave you cheated of your Friday neighborhood fix, I posted a tale about how to haggle for a Christmas tree, complete with a warning about tree salesmen and a map of every licensed seasonal tree lot in the city. If your tree lot isn't on the list, you might want to use that information to get a better deal on a tree.

There's also an excellent illustration by Sun-Times in-house artist Guillermo Munro, you just have to see.

So take a read, and post your Christmas shopping (for trees or otherwise) here. It will keep us in the holiday spirit.

See you in the paper next week.

Buying a real Christmas tree is a lot like shopping for a used car.

You wind up on a corner lot talking to some joker in a trailer who says he's willing to give you a really good deal on something that ultimately dies and gets left on the side of the road to be hauled away.

That's why South Side philosophers — savvy beer-swilling chislers who buy junk cars for sport — offer Christmas tree shoppers a holiday reminder: Only suckers pay sticker price.

That's my tree-shopping mantra.

Over the years, I’ve figured out how to get a nice tree for a bargain price. My best advice is to always shop for a tree when its raining, snowing or so cold you can't feel your toes.

Remember, those independent tree guys can be slick. They pretend there’s a formula for how much a tree should cost — their very own Kelly Blue Book for Christmas trees. They say slightly rumpled trees go for about $10 to $12 per foot. And premium ones marked pink ribbons will cost you a few bucks more per foot. But don’t listen to them. They’ve got wiggle room on those prices and they know it.

But be careful if you're going to haggle with a tree-guy — especially guys from the deep woods who are stuck for months in a trailer with no running water and a five-gallon bucket for a toilet. That kind of living would makes ‘em ornery.

A few years back, I stopped by a tree stand at Ashland and Catalpa, swung open the trailer's flimsy door and startled a burly fellow who appeared from a cloud of cigarette smoke with blood shot eyes. It was late and rainy and he looked exhausted. The perfect time to get a deal.

We went back and forth on prices until the guy agreed to let a $70 tree go for $55. Not bad, I thought. But I could do better.

While he sawed the stump, I headed to get cash. And, of course, to see if the tree guy across the street in the Jewel parking lot could beat the price.

I broke out my best South Side haggling techniques. "What are you some kinda sissy? Afraid to cut a deal? It’s now or never buddy.” It worked.

Just as he’s tying a 9-footer — an $80 tree for $55 bucks — atop my Ford, the guy from across the street spotted us and ran over.

"Looks like you got nice trees over here," the guy said in a really creepy voice. Then, he grabbed a chain saw and fired it up, which really freaked me out. I forked over the cash, sped away and didn't look back.

Now, I don't know what happened after that. But "Tree lot murder baffles cops" wasn’t a headline in the next day’s paper.

At home, I made sure everyone knew that my Fraser Fir — all wrapped in sparkling mini-lights, blue ribbon and loads of ornaments — was no sucker's Christmas tree. That will always put you in the holiday spirit.

Konkol note: Check out our map of every licensed Christmas Tree lot in Chicago.

If there’s a tree lot near you that’s not on the list, it’s probably not licensed, city officials said. Now, that’s news you could use to haggling for a better price. Or to drop a dime to city inspectors.

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You look too clean-cut in the cartoon.

I never haggle because we have a secret place that charges much less than anyone else, and they always have a super-size tree, which is what I get. I figure they need a coupla suckers a year to keep from going out of business in a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood -- which terrifies me to no end.

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Mark Konkol

Mark Konkol covers city neighborhoods for the Chicago Sun-Times. You can e-mail him or call (312) 321-2146.

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This page contains a single entry by Mark Konkol published on December 14, 2007 9:19 AM.

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