Ridgewood’s Museum of Garbage: A rubbish remover who just can’t throw it all away
We all know that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, but it’s less well known that the other man is named Nick DiMola and lives in Ridgewood.
Nick runs DiMola Bros., a rubbish removal and interior demolition company based on Summerfield Street just past Wyckoff Avenue. “We’re a garbage company, so we collect garbage,” he explains as he invites us into the warehouse and office that he has gradually turned into a museum of New York City’s unwanted relics. His website puts it differently: “My job is to get rid of trash, but sometimes it’s not that easy for me.”
The walls of the garage are covered in porcelain signs for Esso, Rheingold, and Borax, along with a neon hotel sign and a cell door from a women’s prison. Space that’s not needed for the business’s trucks is given over to clusters of antique furniture, unnerving medical equipment and vending machines – the oldest a laundry soap dispenser from the 1940s.
Inside his office the wonders compound, walls and ceilings lined with art, advertising and photographs, shelves and cabinets holding much more (see the slide show at right for an idea). Nick jumps from one curiosity to the next with the pride of a collector, yet one protected from obsessive completism by a career in serendipity. “What do you collect?” he asks, and whatever the answer, he’s got something to show you.
The DiMola family has a long history in Ridgewood, involved in once-vital trades like coal, kerosene, ice, and fruit. Nick found a more lasting niche in rubbish removal, starting to clear out trash for neighbors when he was 12. It was only slowly that he started to hang onto a few of his favorite finds, and nearly 30 years later, after he moved to the warehouse in 2007, that he had a place to put them. Since then most of what he’s found has ended up here, aside from a few projects like outfitting friend Charlie Verde’s restored coal oven pizzeria in Bushwick with found materials.
Treasures in the trash are a newspaper staple, and Nick keeps the city’s press well supplied. Past finds like a program from the dedication of Grant’s Tomb and a barrel of pre-Columbian Mexican artifacts make good stories. The best of these came from right in the neighborhood, inside the recently landmarked Ridgewood Theatre. While visiting the shuttered 1916 structure to give a cleanout estimate last year, Nick did some exploring and rediscovered the original projector room with its 1960s projectors behind a modern partition.
“That was unbelievable, walking into this room that nobody had seen in so long, that the owner didn’t think existed,” he recalls. “There was pigeon shit everywhere and the projectors were missing parts, but they were there.”
Though Ridgewood has its share of treasures, Nick clears out trash all over Queens, Brooklyn, Manhattan, and the Bronx, everywhere from apartments and offices to the Guggenheim (he has some of the neon from Philippe Parreno’s marquee in 2008). “There’s no best neighborhood for this stuff,” he says, “but there’s a certain kind of job. It’s the old house that’s been in the family forever, and the kids want everything out. I live for that.”
Though he’s more likely to hold onto his finds than to sell them, Nick has found that his hobby can be good for business in other ways. The media exposure doesn’t hurt, and people call him first if they’re having a hard time saying goodbye. “You have some people who are real hoarders, but the landlord or family say everything has to go. They say they want me to do it because the best stuff will stay in a collection and be appreciated. It’s a comforting idea.”
With new surprises every day, Nick has been showing off some of his finds on a new blog, Trash Treasures of New York City. On our visit the focus of his excitement is a rust-free ’55 Chevy he just got running. “We dug this out of a garage we were clearing and the owner sold it to me,” he tells us while cleaning the glass. The interior is pristine but the paint is worn. “But I’m not going to redo it with decals and everything, I’m going to drive it just like this,” he says reverently. “Everything is the way it came out of the factory. It should look as old as it is.”