Scavenging's new spirit - Page 2

Life, liberty, and the pursuit of freebies in San Francisco
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Photo by House of Herrera

Then he stopped abruptly, fished for the keys to his house, and said, "Here, I'll show you."

I followed him into a hallway lined with half-finished paintings and strategically cracked mirrors, through a '50s-style kitchen, and into his living room. In the corner, beneath a dangling gold and green Eames-style lamp, sat a 50-inch color television. His bedroom walls were lined with random bric-a-brac and outsider art, and his couch was a row of velvet-lined theater seats. Schirmer spread his arms and did his best Vanna White. "Here it is," he said. "I found all of this shit on the streets. People leave piles everywhere, and I just roam around all day and pick through them."

I quickly fell into a routine with Schirmer, a retired world-traveling DJ who now spends his days spinning rare records, tending his garden, and scavenging. I would come over to his house after work, crack a beer, and check out his finds, occasionally claiming certain items for myself. We'd then scroll through the Free section on Craigslist to devise a tentative map for the following day's scavenge. I rarely had time to join him on his daily hunts, but I quickly learned that the free pot is virtually bottomless. And I was hooked.

These days I roam the neighborhood (corporate dumpsters are always a good bet) or scour the Internet anytime I need something. On my most recent search I found a stuffed bunny, a six-foot-tall stack of records, a pair of cowboy boots, and — I shit you not — Sharon Stone's old couch. But I'm no expert. Anyone can search a Web site, but it takes a true connoisseur, someone like Kelly Malone, to build a business from scavenging.

FREE-MARKET ECONOMY

Malone, cofounder of the Mission Indie Mart, spent 10 years climbing the retail ladder at places like the Gap and Limited until she worked her way up to a glamorous life as a traveling designer. But then tragedy struck — in the form of ovarian cancer and its debilitating treatment process — and she had to quit. After spending the first few days of her indefinite vacation watching television, drinking too much at the Phone Booth, and watching old movies, she decided to revisit an old hobby: scavenging. "I just started over and kept positive," Malone said. "When I wasn't sick from the chemo, I was trash-picking for cool stuff to sew and reconstruct." Malone began meticulously scouring estate sales, flea markets, and garage sales for that perfect owl clock or a one-of-a-kind sundress. She also got into interior and exterior design, grabbing spare paint and building materials off the streets, then enlisting her friends to help construct a backyard oasis.

Soon, though, Malone's home had morphed into a retro junk museum. Her backyard was now dotted with old benches, barbecue grills, sculptures, and a sound system. Clothes were spilling out all over the place, and she had enough paint to cover a mansion. It was time to expand.

Malone began taking her stuff down to the flea market in South San Francisco. She set up a booth with music and goodies, offered free beer and hot dogs to friends, and spent whole weekends selling dolled-up vintage goods and making friends with others who did the same. It was there that she struck up a business relationship with Charles Hurbert, a public relations representative at a marketing firm who has a penchant for outsider art and found fashion. Soon Malone and Hurbert combined forces and decided to look beyond sanctioned venues. Malone's backyard beckoned. The Mission Indie Mart was born.

The first mart went off without a hitch. Malone and Hurbert invited swap meet–interested friends to set up booths in Malone's backyard. Cheapo flyers were designed, beer was purchased and resold at cost, and reimagined found apparel was offered for sale. It was a thrifty one-off that felt like an illegal rave, and people loved it.

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