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NY Post
New York Post
22 Jul 2023

NextImg:How Queens native Joe Pilato sold the Brooklyn Bridge’s lights

Want to buy the Brooklyn Bridge — or at least its lights?

A Queens junk flipper found himself on a 15-month odyssey trying to sell lighting fixtures that had once graced the legendary Brooklyn Bridge.

“Normally I only buy things that have a model number, things I can look up exactly what they’re worth, what they’ll go for,” Joe Pilato, 37, who sold the wares for roughly $13,000, told The Post. “But this one…I was like, ‘This is too weird not to try.’”

In November 2021, Pilato came across a notice for a city-run auction for mercury vapor lights that had illuminated the famed span from the late 1990s to 2019, ultimately nabbing 123 of the fixtures for around $35 a pop.

Pilato learned afterward, however, that any potentially interested buyers he had on the line had backed out. So he quickly pivoted to an all-out, hail Mary marketing campaign. 

Pilato fired off at least 1,800, mostly unreturned emails soliciting the lights to marinas, bridge worker unions, a Brooklyn Bridge historian, and business improvement districts. He tried to sell the fixtures at an auction with a city antiques theme — but the effort ultimately fell through.

The city auctioned off nearly 200 lighting fixture that had illuminated the Brooklyn Bridge in 2021.
Getty Images

He even went to the Brooklyn Bridge in person, holding a sign advertising his Big Apple artifacts for sale.  

“This is the only [resell] where I was actively pursuing buyers, kind of yelling into the dark here,” he said.

Pilato’s scattershot strategy, however, eventually began to show glimmers of promise, with appetizing institution Russ & Daughters picking up a pair.

the lighting fixtures
The lighting fixture Pilato sold had graced the Brooklyn Bridge from the late 1990s to 2019.
Joe Pilato

“While none of us knew how or where we would incorporate these literal pieces of history into our shops, we loved the idea of owning a piece of the connection between the two boroughs,” said director of operations Tim Von Hollweg. 

A Manhattan Bridge die-hard, who had an image of the rival span tattooed on his arm, also bought a light, as did a homesick couple in Paris.

The lights saga finally ended in February, when Pilato sold his last 17 bulbs to a billiards shop. The most he ever got for a single lighting fixture was $200, and he estimated that he netted around $7,000 profit pre-tax after factoring storage and moving costs. 

Pilato with two of the lights

Pilato felt he was “yelling in the dark” in his bid to find buyers.
J.C. Rice

Pilato struggled to find an audience for the lights.
J.C. Rice

Evan Blum, owner of the Demolition Depot in East Harlem, was awe-struck by Pilato’s marketing skills — in particular because he poo-pooed the bridge’s lighting fixtures as having “no historical significance” nor any “ornamental quality.” 

“He’s a genius in that he was able to sell these things,” Blum, 69, said. “We got to put him in the junk Hall of Fame.”