Making streets cleaner for everyone
Greenfield native picks up an old habit
Recorder/Paul Franz Bruce Brownstein of Greenfield has picked up thousands of pounds of trash off the streets of Greenfield and gets a free pass at the dump to get rid of it. Purchase photo reprints »
GREENFIELD — Bruce Brownstein learned from his father at an early age that helping others and keeping his home, business, neighborhood and town clean were very important tasks.
The 64-year-old never forgot those lessons. As a matter of fact, you may see Brownstein, just about any day of the week, picking up trash on the side of some of Greenfield’s streets.
“I was a little boy when my dad owned Greenfield Supply Co. on Deerfield Street,” said Brownstein, who lived with his parents on Lillian Street when he was growing up. “I’d get on my bike and work my way down Bank Row to Deerfield Street. I loved my dad and I loved helping him at work.”
Brownstein said he’d grab a broom and start sweeping his father’s showroom every time he visited his dad at work.
“I’d help him rake at home on Saturday afternoons,” he said.
One day his father Jack gave him a project.
“He sent me outside Greenfield Supply to sweep the street and pick up the trash people had thrown,” said Brownstein. “I’d go out with a broom, rake and barrel and I’d clean that street every time I went there. I did it until I was 31 years old and moved to New York to open my own business, Clock Tower Lighting.”
Brownstein said for 10 years he did the same to the 100-yard-long Main Street of Chatham, N.Y. every morning at 6.
“They called me ‘Pudd’nhead,’ because no one understood why I’d spend so much time doing that,” said Brownstein.
When he left Chatham, the mayor and rest of town government thanked him, he said.
Brownstein then moved to Florida for a few years before returning to Greenfield in 1991 to care for his mother Marion, who had become ill.
His father had died in 1986.
“The first day I got home I grabbed a 42-gallon trash bag and walked to Main Street from Lillian, picking up all of the trash along Federal Street,” he said.
Brownstein said he walked two to three miles a day, cleaning Greenfield Streets, on and off, for the next 20 years.
His mother died in 2010.
“My brother Bob and I got her property in order and I moved to Keegan Lane a year ago,” said Brownstein, who had been living with his mother since he returned to Greenfield.
So, Brownstein began picking up trash in his new neighborhood and has extended his quest to the rotary, the former Wedgewood Gardens trailer park site on Colrain Street, and to the bridge above the town’s swimming pool.
He fills 25-pound white kitchen bags and then puts them into heavy-duty, 42-pound dark bags. He either brings them to the town’s transfer station or leaves them at the swimming pool and the town picks them up.
Brownstein said he gets a lot of “thank yous” as people drive by while he’s picking up trash, but he said there are also people like the young lady who was leaving Greenfield Community College one day as he was picking up on Colrain Road.
“She rolled down her window, threw out some trash, and smiled and waved,” he said. “I’ve also had people throw bottles and cans at me.”
He most recently ended up with poison ivy after picking up trash on the Mohawk Trail near River Street, he said.
Why does he continue to do it?
“I was born here and I love this town,” he said. “My dad was a local businessman who loved to do for his community and my mom volunteered at the thrift shop. They taught me to give back. Besides, I’m offended by dirt and filth.”
Brownstein said he recently hit the 12,000-pound mark.
Brownstein said he has been keeping track of how many large trash bags he has thrown away over time. He said he picks up everything from coffee cups to paper to cans and bottles to dirty diapers.
The town’s transfer station has also kept track and said Brownstein is doing a wonderful community service.
“I just can’t believe that some people have so little respect for the environment, their neighbors, their town and themselves,” he said.
Brownstein said he likes to travel to different places throughout town, because it brings back childhood memories.
“I’ll just stop in my tracks while I’m picking up trash sometimes,” he said. “I’ve remembered my dad’s trucks traveling through Greenfield and my brother hitting a home run when he was 13. They are beautiful memories.”