One man’s trash is another man’s treasure: This spring and summer, the adage rings especially true.
The hotter months were always peak times for Big Apple move-ins and -outs. But standard relocations coupled with apartment purges by those fleeing the city’s COVID-19 outbreak have created a gold mine of curbside gems put out for the taking.
From midcentury furniture to one-off antiques, home decor of the highest caliber has been plentiful — and free — for anyone lucky and quick enough to pluck them off the concrete. (Not to mention strong and canny enough to lug their loot home.)
From March on, as thrift shops and secondhand sellers remained shuttered due to the coronavirus, many New Yorkers came to rely on the informal give-and-take economy known as stooping.
The practice of sharing and snagging discarded freebies has gotten a boost from Instagram accounts dedicated to promoting pieces out on the sidewalk and ripe for the picking, like StoopingNYC and CurbAlertNYC.
The anonymous Brooklyn duo who run StoopingNYC say the pandemic has led to a ballooning following (now at 46,000 and counting) as well as an uptick in submissions for full-apartment furniture dumps as opposed to one-off finds.
Over the past few months, the couple has also seen emails and direct messages shift from followers who send in photos of items they stumble across in the street to followers who are hauling their own goods to the curb.
Angelique Ray, a 27-year-old public school teacher, and her roommate Paige Brigham, a 23-year-old speech language pathology student, nabbed a leather armchair from Riverside Drive after seeing its photo and cross streets on StoopingNYC.
The duo chronicled the chair’s 30-block journey to their Upper West Side walkup using a janky bed frame on wheels as a makeshift cart.
The lure of the piece outweighed the perils of bringing an item of unknown provenance into their apartment during COVID-19. “This chair was a risk, but it’s worth it,” Brigham says.
The roommates, who thoroughly cleaned their new armchair, feel good about diverting it from a landfill. “Growing up, my mom used to stoop a lot,” adds Ray, an East Village native. “I didn’t understand why you would stoop furniture if you could just buy furniture. And then, in the last couple years, I realized there are so many great pieces of furniture put out on the street that are still usable.”
Furniture is not a disposable good for many stoopers, including the anonymous Manhattanite who runs CurbAlertNYC, with almost 16,000 followers. “My whole life I’ve been conscious about waste and sustainability,” he says. “There’s really no reason to purchase furniture when you live in the city.”
Some areas produce more gems than others. “I like living on the East Side because it’s quiet, but it’s also a weird treasure trove. When people move out they just throw things away,” says Daina Gigliotti-Dozzi, 34. “I stooped a MacBook Air on my street two weeks ago.”
Gigliotti-Dozzi, who works for an environmentally friendly waste management company, carefully wipes down any pieces before they enter her two-bedroom apartment — including her antique writing desk, which she uses every day.
Gigliotti-Dozzi’s desk score is another “stooping success” shared by the same Instagram account that led to its rehoming. StoopingNYC posts before-and-after photos with the hashtag #stoopingsuccess to show how street-snagged items gain new life.
“The gamification of seeing an item on the page, the in-person scavenger hunt, and then getting it back and having the instant gratification of being able to see their success reposted on the page is something that our followers get really excited about,” the pair behind StoopingNYC say. “It’s so uniquely New York, and people just love being part of New York.”
Mel Lopez, 28, and Sarabeth Blum, 31, estimate about 60 percent of the furnishings in their Bed-Stuy one-bedroom are street finds, while the remainder is purchased secondhand.
Minimizing their carbon footprint is a big reason why Lopez, a senior creative strategist at The Atlantic, and Blum, a senior content manager at Spotify, gravitate towards stooping.
Plus, many of the items that they save from the landfill are better quality than their contemporary counterparts.
“There’s no need for me to buy a brand new side table from West Elm when I can stoop one that’s probably better made,” says Blum. Lopez calls their style “midcentury street chic.” One of their favorite recent finds is a bespoke solid wood bookshelf they use to store records. The piece, which they trekked to Chelsea to pick up after seeing it on Instagram, is signed and dated November 1974.
“Everything that we stoop is really different and unique because we found it, and there’s always a story behind it,” Blum says. “So stooping gives us the opportunity to add our own story to those pieces.”
Even before the coronavirus, the pair always painstakingly cleaned finds before bringing them inside and also avoided any fabrics that could conceal pests like bedbugs.
Advertising strategist Justin Lucero says that the coronavirus stay-at-home order introduced him to the wonders of stooping for the first time.
“Stuff would always be posted while I was at work, so I never had the opportunity to go get anything,” adds Lucero, 33.
Then, while working from his Williamsburg apartment, Lucero spotted a midcentury loveseat upholstered in royal blue leather on StoopingNYC.
The post said it was sitting on the curb in Greenpoint, just one neighborhood over.
Despite a virtual meeting looming on the calendar, Lucero grabbed a Citi Bike and arrived at the corner to claim the couch just before two other groups of stoopers arrived.
An Uber brought him and the loveseat home just in time for the video conference.
“There’s lots of great stuff that gets posted on Instagram,” Lucero says, “but you have to be pretty quick.”