The Salvation Army

Mercer Street, ca. 1977

If dumpster diving were an official sport, New York City would be much better represented at the Olympics.  Is there anyone out there who lived in SoHo in the 1970’s who has NEVER been inside a dumpster?  Most of my childhood home was furnished with items carefully selected from an array of dumpsters, dragged off the street on “big garbage day,” and donated from neighbors who were moving away.

SoHo was a commercial and industrial neighborhood in the 1970’s.  This resulted in lots of big, useful garbage.  If an office was going out of business, all of its furniture would be thrown into a dumpster on the street to be carted away in the middle of the night.  Residents of the neighborhood developed a kind of radar for locating the dumpsters with good stuff, and before they were taken to wherever dumpsters go, the local scavengers would dive right in hoping to find home furnishings, as well as materials for their artwork.

When I lived on Crosby Street, we had many pieces of furniture that were the fruits of my father’s hunting and gathering.  With the whole bedbug scare and maybe just a bit more common sense, most people today would not drag a stranger’s carpeting into their homes, but back then it was okay to let your newborn crawl on and lick it.

The sofa in the photo above was brought in off the street, and my mother covered it with fabric (that I think she actually purchased at a store!).  The carpet was salvaged from an office in the building next door that was closing.  Later on, we had a sofa that was made entirely of foam.  It was a great, light sofa and we used it until it was, we thought, unusable.  We put it out on the sidewalk and within the hour, it was gone.  The funny thing is that about six months later, I saw that same sofa sitting atop a trash can on the corner of Spring and Mercer.  It was just perched there, as if someone had thrown it away along with their empty coffee cup.  I had a good laugh.  I guess one person’s trash is another person’s perfectly good sofa.

I knew we had “made it” when we hired our own dumpster to cart away a truckload of our castoffs when my parents closed their business.  It felt strange and somewhat elating to be on the other side of the equation for once.  Before we were even finished filling it up, passersby began peeking into our dumpster, hoping to find buried treasure.  I knew some of them would be back that evening.

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11 Responses to “The Salvation Army”

  1. Jo Gangemi Says:

    This is good-very nostalgic. I intend to take a photo of my bird”s nest chair, retrieved from the street. I don’t know how to post photos here though.

  2. Yukie Says:

    Great! Please email the photo to sohomemory@gmail.com and I will post it. If anyone else has photos of cool stuff they found on the street in SoHo, please send them along. Or post a comment about it. What is the most interesting thing you’ve ever found on the street???

  3. ingrid cusson Says:

    I still have an old wooden table, that I found on Wooster Street in 1975. It stayed with me 18 years in the loft on the Bowery, then 3 years in fort Greene and now for 15 years in Park Slope. Last year it was down-graded to my deck, where its being used for breakfast and dinner partiesand exposed to all the weathers, rain, snow and the sun, but still holding up fine.

  4. Yukie Says:

    I know this table well and have had many fabulous meals sitting at it since I was a small child! It has one corner missing. Can you send me a photo that I can post?

  5. Aristides Pappidas Says:

    I’m not certain but I think the man standing next to the dumpster is Paul, since he, his wife Nancy and their two daughters used to live on Mercer and he was heavily bearded at the time.

  6. Yukie Says:

    That is indeed Paul. I think he’s standing in front of Benjamin Electrical Engineering Works!

  7. MacLeod Says:

    I remember that us kids always had our own tables to eat on during parties. They were big wooden spindles and everyone in SoHo seemed to have them. I realize now that they were most likely not made for kids… What were they made for? Anyone?

  8. Yukie Says:

    That’s funny. I made that same realization not too long ago. I think they were empty spools for cable or rope or something. They sure made great tables, though!

  9. At Least You Have Your Health… « The SoHo Memory Project Says:

    […] many SoHo residents did not have enough funds to buy new furniture (see my post on dumpster diving: https://sohomemory.com/2011/02/19/the-salvation-army/), they probably could not afford health insurance either.  Luckily, we had the Judson Health […]

  10. Meredith Kurtzman Says:

    Hell,I still have a Haywood Wakefield 2 seater that I found on Sullivan Street,and a miso barrel found in Chinatown…my most interesting dumpster dive was a bin full of books and pamphlets from Olympia Press when it was on Broadway…a copy of Valerie Solanis’s Scum Manifesto[Yow]and other assorted,twisted pieces of litrachoor.

  11. Lia Says:

    LOL! Or maybe ROTFL is more appropriate. “back then it was okay to let your newborn crawl on and lick it.” I remember that. If you think about it, it was actually a substantially gross thing to do, even back then…. A good vacuuming and it’s carpet licking good! I never really thought about it like that before…. Ewww! 😉 😉

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