After 10 years running UConn’s Public Surplus Store, Wayne Landry has learned that everything has a price point, even toilet paper.
“We sold 60 cases of the stuff, at $5 a case,” says Landry, manager of Central Stores and the Motor Pool. “I think most of the people who bought it were going to use it as rags, in a garage or basement,” he said of the huge, one foot in diameter, institutional TP. The offending item didn’t meet UConn’s standards and was returned to the vendor—who didn’t want it, leaving it in Landry’s hands.
Enter the Public Surplus Store. As Central Stores manager, one of Landry’s jobs is running the store, which on Aug. 12 will celebrate its 10th anniversary. Rather than toss the 4,000-foot long rolls of toilet paper, Landry brought them to the store. They sold rapidly. So do the many computers and printers that help fill the store each month, and the dinnerware previously used by Dining Services.
“Our first option [with surplus materials] is to recirculate, give the item a new life in another department, rather than recycle or resell,” says Landry. “I’d much rather get something from your department and move it to another department on campus. We don’t make money, but we are saving the taxpayers money”—by moving tables, chairs, cabinets, lab equipment, and other items from one place to another, meaning the recipient doesn’t spend money on new furniture.
Truth be told, the Surplus Store does make money—$603,000 since it first opened—but the money is plowed right back into Central Stores, allowing Landry and his crews to pick up or deliver surplus materials across campus for free. It also keeps tons of bulky waste out of the state’s landfills.
Take, for instance, the huge box of paper clips that once made its way to the store. Rather than polluting the earth for decades, Landry put a stack of bags next to the box, and offered them up for 25 cents a handful, no matter how big the hand. Or the roughly 70 vertebrate cabinets, about the size of a dresser but with 10-15 2-foot wide, 3-foot deep drawers that were surplused when the new Biology/Physics Building opened. Only about 10 remain.
“We really got the store moving through UConn 2000,” Landry says. “Whenever a new building would open, an old building would close, and we would go through the building before it was razed and recover anything we could. When the old pharmacy building closed, it was a gold mine.”
UConn faculty and staff can see what’s available in surplus Monday through Thursday from 1 to 3 p.m. (on Mondays and Wednesdays in the old warehouse on Auditorium Road, and Tuesdays and Thursdays at the Depot Campus warehouse at 104 Walters Ave.). Unit-to-unit transfers are free. The Surplus Store is open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on the second Friday of every month. Only cash payments are accepted.
“Most of our items sell for $5 to $200,” says Landry, with a full computer system selling for between $75 and $250.
“Five years ago these machines were state-of-the-art,” he says, discussing the computers, most of which are Dells. “And they’re great now, too, unless you’re into some of the latest video games.” All the machines’ hard drives have been scrubbed clean, and freeware—Ubuntu—has been installed on them, giving buyers an operating system similar to Microsoft.
The store has also been a boon to many Connecticut camps and non-profits, which often operate on a shoestring budget. A number of those groups, Landry says, scoop up the dozens of bunk beds, desks, chairs, and dressers available at the store for as little as $5 to $20 each.
“Word has really gotten out about the store,” he says. “Every month when we open the doors, there’s a line snaking across the loading dock and down the handicapped ramp. I do my best Wal-Mart greeter routine. I guess that’s a good way for me to prepare for retirement.”