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Finding Treasures Among the Trash

Introducing Rusty Gold and the pickers of San Diego

In the newest designated neighborhood in San Diego, SoNo (the no-man’s land between South Park and North Park), a very cool family business has opened. If you drive too fast on 32nd Street, you just may miss it.

It’s called Rusty Gold Design, and family members Umberto Pena (dad), Ricardo Arroyo (son) and Alex Pena (daughter), sell their finds out of two large and newly remodeled metal shipping containers.

They call themselves “pickers” after the men who meticulously picked through the soil in search of gold during the Gold Rush. Only the Rusty Gold team searches through estate sales, flea markets, yard sales and online.

Between the hard economic times and the recycling and reusing craze, stores like Rusty Gold as well as vintage clothing stores have taken off. The family says that the demographic is younger than you think. “We get kids in here, like 8 years old, who collect records, and their parents have pushed the recycling so much that it’s unheard of for them to simply throw things away,” Ricardo says.

The majority of customers are 25-35 years old. “They’re young homeowners in this area, and they want their furniture to reflect their older houses,” Alex says.

Rusty Gold to sells out of shipping containers because it was a dream of Ricardo’s. He says he always wanted to live in one. He talks wistfully of the student housing in Amsterdam called Keetwonan, where shipping containers have been converted into student dormitories. It’s the largest shipping container village in the world, and is popular with students because the pods are spacious, quiet, well-insulated, and a great value for the money. “It’s something that would have been thrown away eventually,” says Umberto.

Alex Pena says that shopping for old furniture is ultimately about looking beyond what you see and being able to visualize what a thing can become — not judging a book by its cover.

Rusty Gold offers the choice of buying most furniture “as is” or reupholstering. Their prices are less than half of the average in San Diego. They ask customers to choose fabrics, then Rusty Gold sends the furniture to Otay Mesa.

“In hard times, people tend to get creative,” Umberto says.

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