Turning others’ trash into treasure
This article was taken from YourNabe.com.
Ridgewood garbageman makes clients’ junk into private museum
By Joe Anuta
Thursday, February 3, 2011 11:08 AM EST
To step into the office of this Ridgewood businessman is more like setting foot into a museum of American consumerism.
Granted, a desk and computer take up a corner of the room, but the walls are completely covered by vintage signs advertising 7UP, Esso gas and Tide detergent. A barber chair sits in another corner, next to a mid- 20th century oven converted into a cabinet. An enormous radio that might have once broadcast original episodes of “The Lone Ranger” acts as an end table and over-engineered toy trucks powered by springs and metal gears hang from the ceiling.
Nick DiMola has collected these relics from New Yorkers over the last 30 years by looking in what he sees as the most logical place: the trash.
“I love it when I find something in the garbage and it tells me a story,” he said.
DiMola is the owner of DiMola Garbage Removal, at 16-40 Summerfield St. People hire him to demolish rooms that need to be completely cleaned out — or in DiMola’s words, given “the vanilla treatment. Turned into a white box.”
But the other half of his business, garbage removal, is the exciting part. He never knows what he is going to find.
“The dirtier the job, the better stuff you find,” DiMola said, eagerly showing pictures of some of the homes he and his team have cleaned out.
Many of the residences could have been featured on the television show “Hoarders.” They often belong to the recently deceased whose relatives do not want to deal with the daunting task.
“The family goes to the front door, hands me the keys and says, ‘Call me when you’re done,’” he said. “I’m the next level after the hoarder.”
DiMola sells anything he does not want for his extensive personal collection — unless you get on his bad side.
He once found a container of ancient Mexican ceramics from about 300 B.C. — one of which casually sits inside the case of an old record player near his coffee maker — that the Mexican consulate was interested in buying.
But after inspecting the artifacts, the consulate told DiMola they would simply seize them instead.
“I was going to donate half of them,” he said, but the organization’s attitude caused him to have a change of heart. It tried to regain his favor with an invitation to lunch with the consulate’s president, but DiMola refused.
“You come here and try and intimidate me, and now you want to be friends?” he said.
The artifacts are still sitting in DiMola’s garage.
There is no doubt DiMola is a product of the working-class neighborhood surrounding his shop, but even though Ridgewood is far from Sotheby’s, DiMola still knows his stuff.
“This is from the late 40s, early ’50s,” he said, referring to a bedroom set in his Queens accent. “That mirr-ah is aht deco.”
He has amassed his knowledge from several sources — first research, which he does in his spare time, but often his clients reminisce about the day and year they bought old furniture.
But the easiest way? Newspapers.
“You can tell when this box was packed,” he said, gesturing to the yellowing pages of a print publication from 1959 cushioning a cache of sterling silver decorations.
But DiMola’s most prized possessions would not fetch much at auction and are not on display in his office. Stories are what drive him to sort through piles of refuse.
In one drawer, he has an old insurance bill for a 40-cent premium.
“I think I was born in the wrong time,” he said. “Things seem simpler back then.”
At dinner parties, he often passes around an envelope he found containing a woman’s 1943 employment application to Pan American Airways. She wanted to be a mechanic.
Not only does he have her acceptance letter that arrived three years later containing a paragraph about how she received the position and a badge, he triumphantly showed a picture of the beaming woman, pointing to the badge described in the letter.
“She’s a Rosie the Riviter,” DiMola said. “This is a life story from when our country was at war.”
And as long as there is garbage to fuel it, DiMola’s drive to uncover stories of the past will not lose steam anytime soon.
“Even if I win the lotto and have a million dollars, I still wouldn’t stop rooting around in people’s closets,” he said.
Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4566.