By Carol Tannenhauser
Charles McCray gives basic shopping bags new life, by making them more beautiful. McCray tends to set up shop outside of the Gristedes at Broadway and 103rd Street, selling bags decorated with collages. The bags, which appear to never have been used, are often framed by customers, and sell for $5 or $10.
“I’m a very private person,” he said on Saturday afternoon, as he rolled a shopping cart with his bags back toward home. McCray, who appears to be in his 60s, did not want to be photographed, though he talked briefly about his art and his life.
Business is slow. “Art is not a necessity,” Charles explained. “People who live around here have families, responsibilities.” He lives in the NYCHA projects nearby. “Just two blocks from here.”
“It’s rough,” he said. Gunshots and gang activity stress him out, he said. And the disregard for tenants. He has been waiting for a hole in his kitchen wall — “which they made” — to be fixed for eight years. He believes conditions in the projects are purposely kept bad. “They want to get us out and take them over for rich people,” he said.
Jane Margolis, who snapped the photo above of his work, said McCray is often there, but doesn’t have a set schedule. “I asked him about his schedule and location(s) and he said he only goes to the one place (in front of Gristedes at the top of the subway stairs at 103rd, east side of Broadway). And his schedule isn’t fixed. I’ve seen him on both weekdays and weekends. Mostly it’s rain that keeps him away.”