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About this collection

From elsewhereelsewhere.org/about/:

"In 1937, Joe & Sylvia Gray began what would become a series of businesses principled on the creative use of available surplus in downtown Greensboro.  Realizing that trucks sent to New York with new furniture were returning to the region empty, they began filling them with stock from Depression-era storehouses in the North.  Before long, the business known as Carolina Sales Company outgrew its space at 607 South Elm.  In 1939, the Grays bought the building across the street.  The space was large enough to include a first floor retail store, a second floor four-family boarding house, and a third floor warehouse.

Following WWII, the furniture store gradually transitioned into an army surplus business with extensive catalog sales that sent pup tents, army bags, and canteens to Boy Scout troops and hospitals around the country.  Sylvia mended the army goods up on the third floor that were brought up from the back alley via homemade pulley.

Joe Gray unexpectedly died in 1955, leaving Sylvia with three children to raise.  The ten year period following his death included the decline of the once booming surplus and catalog sales company.  Withy the goal of increasing revenue, Sylvia began buying the ends of fabric bolts, upholstery, denim, and copious amounts of finishing ribbon from local mills.  She shut down the boarding house to save money and boarded up the warehouse.

During the late 70s, Sylvia's inventory expanded once again to include general thrift items such as toys, books, clothing, dishes, housewares, and wigs, as well as general knick-knacks, junk, whatsamacalits, parts, pieces and particulates, bits and bobs, furniture, glass, etc ad infinitum.  The first floor was filled until only a tiny path between the boxes and piles remained.  She shopped twice a day at the local Salvation Army and Goodwill, followed by a host of other women store owners who snatched up objects that she handled but returned to the shelf.  Over time her inventory became more of less a collection, more or less a hoard, more or less an archive that detailed her tastes, interests, and perceptions of value.  Ribbons were tied around tissue boxes stuffed with toy cars.  Dolls were preserved in Roman Meal bags, strung together with various other bagged collections like dresses, jewelry, plastic toys, and dried out pens.  Sylvia would buy clothing items for their buttons, cut them off, and stow them in jars.  She would take piles of ribbon home with her in the evening, wash them, iron them, and roll them around a pencil.

Sylvia worked in the store until the day before she died.  The astounding accumulation amassed over her lifetime remained in a massive heap that was boarded up after her death in 1997."

This digital collection includes selected items from Elsewhere's paper archive.  These selections provide a glimpse into the rich retail history of 606 & 608 S. Elm Street and help to document a moment early in the life of Sylvia Gray's collection.  Historians, casual observers, and longtime Greensboro residents will enjoy persuing these advertisements, catalogs, and letters.

 
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