Like many cities in the Midwest, St. Louis' factory and warehousing industries have declined since their prominence in the early to mid-20th century. Calling St. Louis a "Rust Belt bone yard," entrepreneurs from Cherokee Street in south St. Louis are featured in a new locally produced reality cable show, "Salvage City," where they turn so-called junk into a gold mine.
The show, which premieres on Discovery Channel at 10 a.m. Sunday with three back-to-back episodes, takes viewers behind the scenes as Sam Coffey, salvage king, and Chris Trotter, wisecracking junkyard giant, enter abandoned buildings and remove items. They take the pieces to Mia Brown, who re-purposes them into something they can sell.
"Salvage City" marks another non-scripted television program set in St. Louis and produced by two local production companies, Coolfire Originals and NoCoast Originals.
The show plays up the danger and possible illegality of the "Salvage City" crew's actions while presenting its work as labors of love to preserve history.
Some listeners to our discussion on "St. Louis on the Air" about "Salvage City" were skeptical.
“If you don’t have permission to enter the building, then how do you have permission to remove items from it?,” asked a caller named Jason.
“I was wondering if you would ask your guests what they believe is the difference between what they do on their show and what run-of-the-mill brick or copper thieves do? Just based on the preview, this show seems to commend burglary, while passing it off as rehabilitation," wrote Sophie in an e-mail.
“Certainly what Sam has done in the past skirts the line of what’s legal and what’s not legal,” said Jeff Keane, the president of Coolfire Originals. “Obviously for a TV show, working with a major network; certain things have to be in place. So I will simply say this: when we do this for television, nothing that’s happening is illegal.”
“However, there is still a great deal of danger involved in what Sam does,” added Keane. “So if you watch it and you see danger, that’s absolutely 100 percent real. There’s nothing manufactured about that.” Joining Keane to talk about the production aspects of the show was Charlie Smith, executive producer for NoCoast Originals.
“These buildings are really important to me,” said cast-member Sam Coffey. “And I also have a background as a carpenter working on a lot of historic tax credit properties. So I’m pretty familiar with different items that should and shouldn’t be taken from these buildings. The items that we’re going for — I’m not going after commodity based stuff. I’m not looking for copper that I can sell for weight or aluminum or anything like that. I’m going after items that other people have left for dead for decades and that … would go into a landfill. And this is an opportunity for me to use these items to keep the story of these buildings alive.”
“We’re very much driven by passion for this. We are not trying to make money off of people, rip people off, anything like that,” said Mia Brown. “I am really proud to work alongside Sam, and the respect he has for these buildings and their story, and the history. And all of these questions that are coming in are completely valid and understandable, and they’re great questions. But I think once people watch, they’ll really see how much respect we have for the buildings and the stuff that we’re pulling out.”
And getting people to watch is the goal. Only the three episodes airing on Discovery Channel this Sunday have been produced so far and unless the show gets good ratings no more will be made.