Here are the highlights of a fascinating interview that I had last week, where Santo spoke about playing shows in the old squats, the gallery scene, and the transition of the East Village. You can read the full interview on EVGrieve.
Name: Santo Mollica
Occupation: Owner, The Source Unlimited Copy Shop, Musician
"When the store first opened up there wasn’t too much happening in terms of the store itself. I was playing a lot of music in different clubs and came out with a few albums. I was doing the musician thing and working a lot of odd jobs. I was delivering tip sheets for this guy who used to handicap race horses for Belmont. In the morning I would deliver them to different newsstands for him. He would crank them out in his apartment and I would deliver them and then come here and open the store. I mean, you could live down here cheap. There was a lot of energy going on and it wasn’t all focused on making money because you didn’t have to make a lot to live here...
The copy business is interesting because you always see different people. It’s the same but different all the time because of what’s involved. People are always coming in with something, where you’re like, I don’t even know what this is? Nowadays we get more students. The focus when we started was mostly for the two of us to have a job because I was giving the music a shot. I had some good notoriety with some of my albums, charted on college stations, some light touring. Mostly at that time I was doing guitar, vocals, some percussion and then I shifted over to percussion. Now I back people up as a percussionist. I do some jazz, some folk-rock, whatever the call is really. That’s where it’s at for me.
I used to play a lot of these, I guess they were squats. People would have shows there. These were places where they’d give you a bucket to go into the bathroom and you’d have to pour the water in, or the lights were coming in from the lampposts. They would string electricity from the lampposts. They were co-ops in the purest sense. It was guerilla construction. They made it livable and habitable. It was them who made the neighborhood what it is now because they started living here. It wasn’t just a drug block anymore. It became a viable and livable place.
Around the early to mid 1980s a lot of the art galleries started coming in and the area became more commercial, for better or for worse. There were always the cafe society people and the artists and writers but more people started coming around when more stores started opening up. The galleries took some of the danger out since there were more people coming around. That was when things started changing and the landlords started getting wise to the fact that they could get more money. Before that they were like, ‘Please, take my place.’ Or they were just abandoning them. The values started rising and people started to realize the value but there was also no residual effect in the neighborhood from the galleries. You would see the limos pull up, you’d see the people get out, go to the gallery, do whatever they were doing, get back in the limo, and then they were gone.
The same thing happened in Williamsburg and in Bushwick. We kind of wrote the book on that and everybody followed it after that. Get the artists in here and get them in here cheap. You think one thing is happening and it’s not. I remember Red Square on Houston Street. When that came in everybody was like, 'this is bad news.' It was one of the first luxury places but before they got the Blockbuster and Fedex in there they just had the buildings up and they wanted some notoriety, so they’d have art shows, where the Sleepy’s is. It was like we did in the squats. We played there at an art gallery opening and it was all cinder blocks and it was cold. I didn’t realize at the time what was going on.
I’m old school and have been through the battles. There ain’t too many people left that can say that. But we’re here now and we’re doing stuff and trying to keep it going forward. We’re trying to retain a little bit of the old school but meanwhile be conscious of now and not be living back then. I’m not big on the way things were and that kind of stuff, because things were a certain way before I got here. I was the new guy so I can’t begrudge other new guys. I’m not big on the way things were and that kind of stuff, because things were a certain way before I got here. I was the new guy so I can’t begrudge other new guys."
1/250th at F3.2, ISO 3200 (35mm).
I'm excited to announce that the 2013 print sale has begun! This year, I'm offering twelve prints, 30% off when purchased individually and 45% off when purchased in a collection of three.
This is an excerpt. Read the full interview with Manuel on evgrieve.com.
"This neighborhood here was really good, it was family oriented, and a lot of people were connected. All the parties, the New Year's parties, were all so good. Everything was so good. But drugs and credit messed everything up. As soon as they started giving credit out here and stuff like that, that made everybody fall off into their own depression, because now they owed money. They had exceeded their means of living. Once they put that out there it really put everybody in hardship.
But also back in the day you could make so much money, $200 just to walk out the door. You could make $200 spotting, standing at the corner, saying ‘Bajando’ [Down] or ‘Maria.’ You couldn’t even walk down the street without avoiding drugs. People were yelling like, ‘Executive,’ ‘Dom Perignon,’ ‘Black Magic,’ everybody was just yelling things out.
And the police would come by, look at it and just keep going. I think the agenda was to leave the people who did drugs alone. There was work available in the sense of selling drugs. There was a lot of money out here. This area was like a filter. Everybody had to come through here before they could get anywhere else. Now Jersey is where the drugs are and not here.
Back then the owners were burning down the buildings to get their money to go off somewhere else. There were burned-down buildings every other day. Then, what happened was the neighborhood got an opportunity from Koch — get a building for a dollar and fix it up. That was a great thing that a lot of people did. Now a lot of these buildings are owned by the people. We would rehabilitate these buildings, clean them out and gut them because people were using them for shooting galleries. We would break them all up and just leave the skeleton. We would start with the beams, the reinforcement beams, then from there we would put planks and plumbing in. I was only 13 when I started doing that.
Through that I became a plumber and later on in life I became a contractor. My highest point in life, I had 18 guys, and we volunteered to help out in Ground Zero. It was like the end of the world, armageddon. We were camping out in my utility trucks
I haven’t done anything for the past 5 years. I’ve just been in a slump. I broke up with my girl and I went into this slump using drugs, so that’s stagnated me. But I’m about to jump out of it. Right now, I live in the shelter on 3rd street. They have places like Workforce [Development Center] but they don’t really work. What they give you, everybody has. The people on welfare get the same printouts with the job listings. You go there and there are like a thousand people for one job. You think you have the upper hand by having these people help you, but they are just getting you the same thing that you can get yourself.
This is Madonna’s old stoop, 234. We used to hang out here. This is not the original door. The old one used to be covered in graffiti. She loved Spanish men. She was a real freak. She used to hang out here, she used to go to the World, the Palladium. She was really open with everybody. She’d smoke weed with us and everything. She wasn’t closed off, she was open minded and daring — and aggressive. If she liked you she’d tell you."