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Now safely ensconced on East 7th Street, Trash and Vaudeville is back to doing what it does best: selling "rock and roll you can wear." From the mod-inspired Beatle boot to the punk-classic Ramones' skinny jean to the goth-essential Lily Munster purse, it's all still there — just in a new, slightly smaller place.
The clean and fresh two-story space picks up where the old emporium left off, but the move nonetheless marks a new chapter for the business that originally began in 1975 and its house brand, Tripp. Racked NY recently sat down again with owner Ray Goodman to go over the store's past, present, and future.
Tell me about how Trash and Vaudeville started.
Ray: I love rock and roll. I always did. When I was 12 or 13, I got my first drum set, but wasn't really that great at it. I got into psychedelic lighting, but that came and went. I wanted to be connected to that whole rock and roll scene, so I thought, "What could I possibly do?" I came up with the idea of selling rock and roll tee shirts initially, so that's what I would do.
At that point it was, like, 1971. Grateful Dead tee shirts, you could buy them for $1.50 sell them for $3.50 or $4. Going back even further, I had known about St. Mark's Place because — I don't know if I mentioned this — my mom had brought me down to St. Mark's for the first time in 1967, when I was 13, to see an Off-Broadway performance of Man of La Mancha. I remember looking around and saying, "I don't know what's going on here, but I want to be part of this." It was all hippies and they were so cool.
Fast forward to summer of 1972 — the tee shirt thing, it wasn't really working. I was getting ready to start my first year of college. I didn't really want to go to school, but it was something to keep my parents happy. I was going to a local college in Jersey City and I needed a summer job, so I got a job working for the store that had been on St. Mark's Place [in the same space as] Trash and Vaudeville called Limbo. Long story short, I moved my way up there because that was just my nature, to be a hard worker.
They had about six or seven stores around New York. I would go to school and work for them part time, [but then] they were starting to close stores. There were four partners, and one who left had two stores — one on St. Mark's and one on Nassau Street. He said, "You know, Ray, I'm thinking of selling the store on St. Mark's. Would you be interested in buying it?" I borrowed $1,000 from my parents.
I had this idea in my head to start this concept, Trash and Vaudeville, because people would say sometimes "What is that trash you're wearing?" It just came to me, and that was it. I decided we would do vintage and new clothing. Vintage really helped with doing that rock and roll thing — late 50s rock and roll, gabardine shirts, pink and black, all this stuff. I had one employee, and that's how it started.
It was just the upstairs and just the front half of the store [at the time], and the back was storage and stock. As time passed, we took more of the back space. When the whole punk thing was starting to happen in 1977 and 1978 — and even earlier in the UK — we started bringing stuff over from there. We needed more space, and the downstairs was available.
Looking back, what are some of your favorite memories of the old space?
Ray: For me, most of my favorite, favorite memories involve different people that came in to shop early on. The Ramones coming in. The Clash [guitarist] Mick Jones saying that we had the best black jeans in the world. The Clash had some shows on Broadway at a place called Bond's, and the story goes that they oversold the shows, so that nobody would not get to see them that wanted to, they doubled the amount of shows. They had mannequins there, and they asked us to dress the mannequins. I must have gone to ten of those shows, at least — it was so cool.
The Ramones, having Joey and Marky come in, and Dee Dee and everybody. To this day, Marky Ramone is a great, great friend of [my wife] Daang's and mine and the store — he's always there to help us, to show his support.
And what more of an honor could it be then to have Bruce Springsteen shopping in the store? A favorite memory: I was wearing an old pink and black flannel shirt one day when he came in. It was a mess, and that's why I kept it to myself because I couldn't even put it out on the rack. Somebody had taken the pocket off to patch the cuff, but it was the perfect pink and black flannel, it was just so great. Bruce said, "You know Ray, you got to sell me that shirt, I love that shirt," and we went back and forth. I said, "All right here, just take it." He ended up wearing it on the cover of The River album.
Also, Jimmy Webb, your merchandiser and salesman, is a celebrity unto himself.
Ray: Jimmy is a unique individual. He has a great story. He wrote me a letter that he wanted to work here at the time when he first came to us, in the mid- to late '90s. I was getting more and more involved in Tripp, our wholesale company, and I was not in the store as much, so of course I trusted the management to make more and more decisions. Time went by, and then [our manager] Diana came in, and she said, "Let's give him a shot," and the rest is history.
His heart is totally in the store. He's an unbelievable individual in the sense that he's totally dedicated. I can't think of anybody else that could understand what we do or my merchandising philosophy — he's very involved in the store and in the buying. We've spent years shopping trade shows together with my wife.
A lot of the old school New York punk stores are gone, and everyone from Hot Topic to Louis Vuitton is putting spikes on things. How do you take that in?
Ray: I'm fine with it. I'm not that affected one way or another. They do their spin on it, they make it acceptable for a different group of people. It's always been there. One of the great (if not the greatest) punk designers, really, is Vivienne Westwood. She is a true designer, not a stylist who's taking something and putting their spin on it. No disrespect to people who do that — that takes a lot of talent and that's a great thing to be able to do and interpret it — but she really did things that people had not done before. She brought styles and fabrics into the fashion world that made people say "Wow, this is really cool."
Daang never ceases to amaze me with the stuff that she comes up with. Every time she does a collection for Tripp, I look at it and I say "Wow." Even though I work with Tripp most of the time, my thing is not what she does — I'm more behind-the-scenes when it comes to Tripp, and she's in charge of design and direction, and that sort of thing it blows my mind.
We used to say that Trash and Vaudeville was rock and roll you can wear — that was one of our little slogans. The second one was "Good is good." It's the same way I feel about music: It may not be my cup of tea. I may not run out and buy every record that band or that that person made. I may not go out of my way to see them perform, but if it's good, it's good. That's how we've merchandised the store, and that's how Daang does the Tripp line. It doesn't mean that I'm in love with every single piece that I have in here, but good is good. If we collectively feel it should be in the store, we want it here.
There is stuff I have bought over the years that I knew would be a tough sell, but it was something so creative, or there was something so interesting about it that we had to have it.
Anything in particular?
Ray: There was a line that we used to carry from England called Red or Dead. Some of it was very wearable, but some of their most amazing pieces were maybe not as wearable. Just like a designer does certain things for the runway, It's just meant for that, but I wanted that for the store. I wanted people to come in and say, "Wow, I've never seen anything like that before," and maybe even to get the courage to try it on and come out [of the dressing room]. I wanted that.
We're always looking to find new things — We have our core theme, but we build around it. We keep layering on it and layering on it. We have our basics, and our basics are black skinny jeans and black motorcycle jackets. We're always going to have Beatle boots, and we're always going to have creepers. I know I'm going to sell more black leather and black suede Beatle boots then I'm going to sell green python Beatle boots, but I still need green python Beatle boots because they're so damn cool.