If you’re one of those people who collects ideas on Pinterest about repurposing a wooden crate into a porch swing, tiling your bathroom floor with copper pennies or using recycled bottles in wedding centerpieces, you’d love the show “Salvage Dawgs” on the DIY network. It chronicles the adventures of a fun and dynamic group of people who recover and reclaim items from buildings fated for demolition, bring them back to their warehouse, and re-sell them or repurpose them into other items for sale.
If you’re the type who’d rather leave the DIY-ing to others, the retail shop at Black Dawg Salvage in Roanoke, Virginia, has plenty to discover. The place is chock full of items to outfit the homes of the shabby chic decorator, the hipster, the classic antique collector, the reformed (or unapologetic) hippie, and everyone in between. People come from all over the continent to visit the store, take selfies with the stars of Salvage Dawgs, and buy show swag and treasures large and small. On a hot, muggy, August afternoon, the place is positively bustling.
Calmly walking through the organized chaos, smiling at customers and joking with co-workers, is Grayson Goldsmith ’11, the only female star of the reality show. Tall and stunning, wearing steel-toed boots with her cutoffs and logoed tank top, she stands out among the crowd. She moves through the huge retail and warehouse space, answering phone calls, tracking down miscellaneous items of inventory, – “Do y’all still have that floor lamp Mike built from recovered barn wood and iron I saw on the windmill episode?” – and making sure our camera crew has access to electrical outlets and an interview location that isn’t too noisy and has just the right light. She knows exactly what we need and is friendly and efficient.
Appalachian State University alumna Grayson Goldsmith ’11 describes how her work at Black Dog Salvage in Roanoke, Virginia, is a natural extension of her Sustainable Development degree.
Grayson Goldsmith: I’m from Roanoke. I grew up here, born and raised, and I moved away when I went to Appalachian State. So, that was four years away in a place that felt like home. It had a lot of the same vibe that Roanoke does, and that was one of the things that drew me to Appalachian in the first place. I didn’t think I’d be in Roanoke as long as I have, but I’ve found this awesome job at Black Dog, so here I am.
GG: So, Black Dog Salvage is an architectural salvage company, which means we go out into the field when buildings are condemned - schools, houses, churches, we’ve done a jail, we’ve done amusement parks, I mean, you name it. The weirder the better. We go in and take the reusable architecture and we bring it back here and we sell it - either to be reused, as a door, for example, again, or we might repurpose that door into another piece of furniture. We’ve got a custom shop downstairs, a metal shop and wood shop. But you’ll see light fixtures from all sorts of time periods hanging everywhere. Obviously a ton of woodwork, tiles, sinks, clawfoot tubs, stained glass, garden statuary, fountains, crazy whimsical things from an amusement park. You know, many stories.
(Caption) Since 2012, Black Dog Salvage and their day-to-day operations have been featured on the reality show “Salvage Dawgs” on the DIY Network.
GG: It’s really fascinating how the show has progressed and how people have I mean, literally, from all over the U.S. are coming to see us. And when I started there was only like 10 or 11 people, and now we’re about 31.
Robert Kulp, Co-Owner, Black Dog Salvage: You know, we hired her to work, and she turned out to be great at work and great on TV too, so it was a fortunate hire.
Mike Whiteside, Co-Owner, Black Dog Salvage: It’s been fun to watch her grow, because from the first time she was on TV - real scared, and not knowing what to say, and now she’s -
RK: You can’t shut her up.
GG: I’m camera shy, so being on the show for me, at the beginning, was a bit nerve racking, and I was so nervous about being this girl in the field. You know, I didn’t want to seem helpless or weak. Once I got a sense of what we were doing and how to do it, I realized that like it didn’t matter if I was female or male or whatever, I’m going to do it my way, and that’s okay. I mean we have our own ways of doing things, and our own viewpoint, it’s all a balance, right? The Yin and Yang.
GG: I started school in 2007, and I thought I was going to study Geology, and I’m taking courses and I’m loving it, and about two years in, I realize I don’t want to be a geologist. So, I started looking around for other majors, and at the time, Sustainable Development had just become a major option at Appalachian. I thought to myself, what was the most important thing to me, and that was the next generation. And the whole foundation of Sustainable Development is being able to develop so that the current generation’s needs are met, without compromising the needs of the next generation. And what, really, is more important than that? You know, I mean, being a steward of that kind of responsibility, I think, is really important, and an honor.
GG: So, for Black Dog, I go out in the field when we have a salvage job, and I’m actually getting in the dirt and grime and taking apart things, and it’s so much fun. But when I’m not in the field, I’m here, either working at the front counter, selling salvage, or organizing the salvage jobs. I’m helping to vet the emails that we get.
RK: Grayson really is on the front end of most of our projects - in other words, she is the gatekeeper. She gets the first look when somebody calls up and says, “hey, I’ve got this…”
GG: I sort of feel like the guys are there to do the work, and do the job, and I am too, but I also have a little bit more patience, I think, with the owner who has this emotional attachment to what we’re ripping apart. And usually, it’s something very personal, like someone’s home, someone’s grandparents’ home, their great grandmother or grandfather built this place, it’s a farmstead, it’s been in the family… It’s very emotional to see it go.
RK: It’s a destructive process that we’re in. It’s kind of like, it’s kind of tough to watch sometimes, so we have to ease the edges a little bit.
MW: You have to be sensitive - you’re dealing with people’s lives that are history. You know, we’re taking something down that’s connected to the community and/or individuals, and you have to be respectful of that. And Grayson really helps us - I mean, Robert and I have done it for years, and Grayson does that too, but she does it with her personality and we’re all sympathetic to the history. And you have to be -
RK: She just does it better.
MW: Yeah, okay, I was trying to skirt around that, but it’s pretty obvious.
GG: I love listening to their stories and their history. There’s always a story. And so, I get to talk to them face-to-face, and comfort them, knowing that this stuff is being respected, and we really appreciate it, but they are almost tearing up when they know it’s going to live on in another way, another form, just get reused. They’re like, “I don’t care what happens to it, as long as I know it’s not being burned or being put in a landfill.” They are worldly things, but they have sentimental value, I think. Save what you can.
MW: Well, our business is, in its core, is recycling. So the sustainability is reuse - that’s one of the components of that particular genre, is don’t throw it away. Figure out how you can capture the energy that was put into that particular piece - for what it was intended to be, or for an upcycling job, because that energy, once it’s thrown away, is lost. And that, really in its core, is sustainability.
RK: One of the conversations I had with her about her degree - that was one of the things she said it was really about, was not only, “hey, let’s just recycle,” it’s much deeper than that, and it’s based on the fact that the only way that kind of effort can be sustained is for people to be sustained by it.
MW: It’s got to make a living. Just out there saying you’re going to do it is one thing, but making it a lifestyle, a way of making a living, then that becomes sustainable in its own right. It’s got momentum, it’s got the ability to provide salaries, and livelihoods for the people involved in all the ancillary things that are happening around it.
GG: One of the main principles, the main principle, probably, of sustainable development is the emphasis on social equity, environment, and economics. And what I do here at Black Dog is, we are working in a business, so obviously our aim is to make a profit. But we also are salvaging reusable and repurposing architecture, and keeping that out of our waste streams. You know, things that would have ended up being in the burn pile or landfill, essentially. So, it feels right to be working somewhere where I’m kind of contributing to that social change. Yeah, I feel good about what I’m doing, and I believe in the work that we do.
As we sit down to chat, her warmth, mixed with a bit of endearing awkwardness, is disarming. She is open, genuine and friendly, and immediately apologizes for being camera-shy. She tells us, being on Salvage Dawgs, “at the beginning, was a bit nerve-wracking. I was so nervous about being this girl in the field. You know, I didn’t want to seem helpless or weak.”
Not much to worry about there. On the show, she wields tools with a practiced air, demolishing structures, recovering salvageable items and occasionally, coming away bleeding. But she also brings empathy to every project, and an aspect of the job that brings her satisfaction is gaining a true understanding of the social and personal history of the items her crew recovers.
“There’s always a story,” she said. And it’s evident she finds it moving and meaningful to talk with the owners of the salvaged items. “Knowing that this stuff is being respected, and we really appreciate it… they are almost tearing up when they know it’s going to live on in another way, another form, just get reused. They are worldly things,” she added, “but they have sentimental value.”
Black Dog owner and Salvage Dawgs co-star Mike Whiteside shows obvious appreciation for this quality Grayson brings to the job. “You have to be sensitive – you’re dealing with people’s lives that are history. You know, we’re taking something down that’s connected to the community and/or individuals, and you have to be respectful of that. And Grayson really helps us. I mean, Robert and I have done it for years, and Grayson does that too...”
“She just does it better,” interrupted his business partner and co-star Robert Kulp with a smile.
While taking care of people’s legacies has meaning for Grayson, this Sustainable Development alumna finds true satisfaction in working in an industry that embodies sustainability.
“The main principle… of sustainable development is the emphasis on social equity, environment, and economics. And what I do here at Black Dog is, we are working in a business, so obviously our aim is to make a profit. But we also are salvaging and repurposing architecture, and keeping that out of our waste streams. You know, things that would have ended up being in the burn pile or landfill, essentially. So, it feels right to be working somewhere where I’m kind of contributing to that social change.”
Grayson’s degree stood out to her employers as an asset. Kulp and Whiteside appreciate her ability to understand how their business is making a lasting impact on the environment, the local economy in Roanoke and the lives of their employees, as well as the former owners of the salvage.
“In one of the conversations I had with her about her degree,” said Kulp, “she said it was really about, not only, ‘hey, let’s just recycle.’ It’s much deeper than that, and it’s based on the fact that the only way that kind of effort can be sustained is for people to be sustained by it.”
“Yeah, I feel good about what I’m doing, and I believe in the work that we do,” Grayson added.
Some people search for that their entire lives. Grayson found it right out of college.
Now there’s an Appalachian definition of success.
About Sustainability at Appalachian
Appalachian State University’s leadership in sustainability is known nationally. The university’s holistic, three-branched approach considers sustainability economically, environmentally and equitably in relationship to the planet’s co-inhabitants. The university is an active steward of the state’s interconnected financial, cultural and natural resources and challenges students and others think critically and creatively about sustainability and what it means from the smallest individual action to the most broad-based applications. The university offers both undergraduate and graduate academic degree programs that focus on sustainability. In addition, 100 percent of Appalachian’s academic departments offer at least one sustainability course or course that includes sustainability, and all students graduate from programs that have adopted at least one sustainability learning outcome. Learn more at https://appstate.edu/sustainability.
About the Goodnight Family Department of Sustainable Development
One of seven departments housed in the College of Fine and Applied Arts, the Goodnight Family Department of Sustainable Development at Appalachian State University prepares students to thoughtfully analyze human development while focusing on the applied practice of pursuing transformative, community-driven development and social change. It offers a Bachelor of Science degree in sustainable development with concentrations in agroecology and sustainable agriculture; community, regional and global development; and environmental studies; as well as a Bachelor of Arts and minor in sustainable development. Learn more at https://sd.appstate.edu.
About Appalachian State University
As the premier, public undergraduate institution in the state of North Carolina, Appalachian State University prepares students to lead purposeful lives as global citizens who understand and engage their responsibilities in creating a sustainable future for all. The Appalachian Experience promotes a spirit of inclusion that brings people together in inspiring ways to acquire and create knowledge, to grow holistically, to act with passion and determination, and to embrace diversity and difference. Located in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Appalachian is one of 17 campuses in the University of North Carolina System. Appalachian enrolls more than 19,000 students, has a low student-to-faculty ratio and offers more than 150 undergraduate and graduate majors.
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