Bagging a gig to sell dead leaves is not an easy task

November 12, 2005|By ROB KASPER

Usually when I rake the leaves all I think about is a way to get the wind to blow them into my neighbor's yard.

But the other day I stood over an especially picturesque pile of foliage and a fresh thought flashed through my skull: Maybe I could sell these beauties.

I recalled a weekend get-together with friends during which tales were told of the escapades of our now-grown children. One such story was about a friend's son who, as an employee of a New York production company, had purchased bags of leaves for use in a film shoot. I couldn't remember the price, but it was something pretty sweet. Any amount of cash for a bag of leaves seemed like gravy.

Normally my investigative journalism is limited to looking up an address in the phone book, but the prospect of getting cash for fallen foliage motivated me to make extraordinary efforts. I went to the office, made several phone calls, sent several e-mails and promised anonymity to my sources (who for reasons of embarrassment, did not want to be linked to my efforts to cash in on dead foliage.)

After some digging, I found a guy who does indeed deal in leaves. Gus Tsamas, president of American Foliage and Design Group in New York, told me the going rate for basic brown leaves is $70 for a 55-gallon bag. Colored leaves are extra.

Whoa, at that price, I told myself, I could own a sports car just by regularly raking the yard.

The leap, however, from the backyard into the lap of leafy luxury turned out not to be so simple. First of all, that price was what Gus was charging customers, not what he was paying his supplier. Without going into details, Gus said his supplier, an unnamed Boy Scout troop in Pennsylvania, were paid a "nice percentage" of the $70.

Secondly, Gus said, these were not your backyard-variety leaves. These leaves had been carefully selected, cleaned, and -- are you ready for this -- blow-dried.

UNKNOWN_HIBIT_c0 UNKNOWN_HIBIT_f4 UNKNOWN_HIBIT_c0 "You have to have clean leaves," Gus explained, "because models could be rolling around in them." His leaves, he said, have appeared in photo shoots for the Italian edition of Vogue.

Encouraged by me to name drop (or would that be leaf-drop?), Gus told me that he had sold some 200 bags of leaves, to the Spider-Man production team.

For a time, his leaves were on Broadway in Fiddler on the Roof, Gus said. But after spending close to $40,000 for fresh leaves, the company switched to silk leaves, he said. So much for tradition.

Just when I was trying to get Gus interested in my leaves -- some gorgeous red dogwoods, or perhaps something in a striking yellow fig -- he told me he was not in the market.

The Boy Scouts, his regular supplier, "deliver a very quality leaf," he said. They know his specifications: the leaves must be free of twigs, animal droppings and -- this is very important -- must remain leafy, never crushed. Part of the expense of handling top-drawer leaves, Gus said, is that they take up so much room. Storage space is expensive, especially in New York, Gus reminded.

Intrigued by the notion that my leaves could be in pictures, I telephoned a local company, Baltimore Display, to see if the folks there might be interested in acquiring bags of my local beauties.

Vince Kelly, a sales associate for the company, said he did do some business in fall foliage. Designers want leaves for window treatments, he said, and then there are the photographers. "Photographers will call you anytime, asking for anything," Kelly said.

But the decorative leaf season is over, he said. Moreover, he doesn't handle free-roaming leaves such as the ones I bagged. Instead he deals mostly with decorative leaves that are attached to handsome branches. These, he said, come from commercial suppliers who have high standards for camera-ready foliage.

"They don't use leaves from Joe Shmo's backyard," Kelly said, shattering my dream. "If they did, I would bring the ones in from my yard."

rob.kasper@baltsun.com

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