From the American Scene: I Cash Clothes!
The shops of New York City’s second-hand clothing dealers crowd the bottom of Elizabeth Street on the rim of Manhattan’s Lower East Side, in the block below Canal Street. The block is quiet, despite the insistent echo of heavy trucks rumbling noisily across Canal Street’s uneven cobblestones; the Fifth Precinct, which polices the Bowery and Chinatown, is near the corner; the small shops nestle in low, ancient brick buildings, and their proprietors buy frayed suits, coats, and trousers from old-clothes peddlers and sell them to mid-West and Southern outlets. The peddlers are as shabby as the clothing they bear. They are old men, Jewish immigrants from Russia and Poland, who have shuffled through the city, clutching wrapped newspapers, crying, “I buy! Cash clothes!” for thirty, forty, fifty years. The peddlers are poorly dressed, and many need a shave. They are poor men.
Henry Getoff is an old-clothes peddler. He canvasses neighborhoods—Washington Heights, West End Avenue, Jackson Heights, the Grand Concourse—for old clothes, calling, “Buy cash! Buy!” He carries a tightly folded newspaper (“This is the sign I buy,” he says) and brown wrapping paper for his purchases. It isn’t an easy business. He works in all weathers, is unable to take a vacation, is constantly liable to arrest for making unnecessary noise, and his earnings are unpredictable. “It is a lot of walking,” he says. “And nothing extra in money. Just enough to get along.”
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