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'A big treasure chest': What is the MSU Surplus Store?

December 13, 2021
<p>The MSU Surplus Store on Farm Lane, photographed on Nov. 22, 2021. </p>

The MSU Surplus Store on Farm Lane, photographed on Nov. 22, 2021.

There is only one place on campus where you can get a Case Hall futon for $15 and a biocontainment cabinet for $1,500: The MSU Surplus Store.

The MSU Surplus Store and Recycling Center is the upcycling and resale shop run by the MSU recycling program. The store is meant to be a place for all the unwanted furniture, equipment and belongings to go after being used by the MSU faculty and staff. The store then tries to generate revenue for MSU through the resale of the items, while at the same time preventing the items from being dumped in the landfill.

Each week, the store receives around a thousand items — couches, lab equipment, office chairs, dishware, books — to process and decide if they can be resold, upcycled, recycled or thrown away.

Aaron Cookingham, a waste entrepreneur at the store who assists with sales operations, said that COVID-19 has changed up the business significantly, impacting the way the store sells its inventory. The pandemic forced the store managers to cut back in-person store hours and expand their online shop, selling both on a website and other online stores. 

“We’re still keeping up with the materials that we are receiving with just the one sales day a week,” Cookingham said. “We’re really hoping that our website can become that 24/seven shopping option for everyone.”

Another reason that Cookingham points to for the transition online is to have a greater number of potential customers for a unique product it is selling. Not everyone knows the store as a possible source for certain items such as ice rink Zambonis, certain science equipment or plumbing valves.

Cookingham said the store is now offering curbside pickup five days a week, as well as home delivery of packageable items.

Local resident Candace Wilmore, 73, has been shopping at salvage stores for decades and has come to the MSU Surplus Store each week it is open. Not necessarily to always buy items or materials, but out of “fascination.”

The store is great for finding materials for other projects as well. Wilmore, who is a gardener, has found material at the store to use for gardening. She said once she took a metal pole labeled for an IV bag, painted it black and turned it into something for her planters to hang on in her garden.

“You never know what you’re going to see here,” Wilmore said. “There are so many things here that might be labeled for one purpose, but you can use it for so many other purposes. And things you could never find any other kind of store.”

Genetics graduate student Laura Ford said she has shopped at the store to furnish her apartment. She has liked the items she’s bought and said they have lasted her a long time. 

“Four years ago, I bought a really cheap coffee table from them and I still have it,” she said. “It looks really nice. It looks like it’s from the dorms. (It’s) cheap furniture that is good quality. I mean, I still have them.”

Wilmore said she will sometimes look for cheap items to take to donate to lower-income people. On Nov. 19, she was looking for Christmas decorations, like trees that she could give away.

“You look online for artificial trees and they’re $50-60," Wilmore said. "I’m getting three of them here today for $5 each.”

Hospitality business senior Bryan Castillo II was a first-time shopper at the store on Nov. 19. Castillo said he likes to go to different thrift stores and resell the items on online markets.

“It’s honestly a big treasure chest," Castillo said. "Lots and lots of treasures, lots of unresearched items that people don’t know the full value of here."

This is one of the great aspects of the store. Regardless of how the materials are used, the lifetime is extended.  Cookingham said that the store partners with Broad Art Museum to take a lot of the materials that are hard to sell so that students at MSU can use them for art materials.

Cookingham said the store is constantly trying to evolve and better serve campus. 

“We’re probably one of the leaders in the country in terms of university surplus operations and are one of the most successful,” he said. “A lot of our business has grown and changed, and we continue to try to evolve and serve the campus better as well.”

The MSU Surplus Store is open Fridays from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and has an online shop, available anytime. 

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