The Hippo


Jun 26, 2019








Lee’s transfer station swap shop is affectionately known as “The Lee Mall.” Photo courtesy of Roger Rice.

Shop at the dump
Find some gems for free or cheap


 Maybe you need a new lamp but you’re a little short on cash, or, on the flip side, you’ve got an extra lamp taking up space that isn’t quite ready for the garbage bin. In either case, it might be time for a trip to the dump.

Many local transfer stations have either swap shops, where you can grab stuff for free, or secondhand stores that offer used things cheap. These shops mean you don’t have to toss anything that might be valuable to someone else, and you can pick up something new to you, too.
The swap shop opt
Most swap shops don’t look like much from the outside. The Lee Swap Shop is a small wooden building heated with space heaters.
“It’s kind of close to a shack, to be honest,”said Roger Rice, Lee transfer station manager. But that hasn’t stopped the popular spot from earning the nickname “The Lee Mall.”
While the physical buildings may look like glorified tool sheds, these shops hold lots of goods, and always a few gems. Every swap shop has its own regulations as to what type of items are accepted. Clothing, toys, books, and housewares are all popular, as are Christmas items during the holidays.
Quality levels of the stuff you will find can range from barely used to a little banged up.
“Something strange comes through it feels like every week,” Rice said. “We take anything in like a typical swap shop that is reusable, and anything that isn’t finished with its life yet. So it doesn’t just sit in a landfill.”
Some of the luckiest swap-shoppers have walked away with items like nearly-perfect canoes. Rice even browses the tradeables himself.
“Everything has a lot of life left in it. If we need to change out our coffee pot in the office, we go there,” he said.
Swap shops are fun for the whole family. When the Deerfield swap shop is open (in the spring, summer and fall; it’s closed in the winter) it’s always really busy, said Dennis Koch, a Deerfield resident. He sees lots of families with children and sometimes brings his own. The neatly organized shop has a wide selection of the typical yard sale-type stuff like books, plates and glassware. But it also has an impressive collection of things kids easily outgrow: toys and clothes, baby gear like playpens car seats and swings, and sports equipment like baseball mitts, skates and skis.
“[The kids] like it,” Koch said. “My goal  is to always come home with less than I bring, so I try not to get too much stuff. But sometimes they see stuff and they want to take it home.”
Swap shops are popular with all sorts of people, and if you’re especially environmentally-minded, you’ll fit right in here.
“I would say for the most part it’s people who hate to see things thrown away and wasted,” Rice said. “While it’s popular with people who are older ... it’s becoming very vogue with young people. That [consumer] mentality is starting to grate on people’s nerves with how we run a society. A lot of people would like to see things reused.”
The second hand solution
Not all municipalities opt for the swap shop model. In Bedford, Gus Pappajohn has owned and run the second hand shop at the transfer station for the past 11 years.
Walking through the Bedford shop is like taking a trip through your grandmother’s attic. Not your hoards-everything grandmother — the one who knows how to identify the heirlooms that could very well become collector’s item, or at least a conversation-started years down the line. Inside the simple wood building (that doesn’t have running water) is a crowded room of good quality things. Framed landscape paintings are hung side-by side on the walls next to old-fashioned wall clocks. Chandeliers hang from the ceiling and antique lamps with elegant shades illuminate the room’s cluttered corners. Chairs with woven seats are stacked on top of each other and to one wall, tall china cabinets display porcelain plates and tea cups,  pressed or cut-glass bowls and vases and curious, smiling nicknacks. There’s even a guitar or two in Pappajohn’s mix.
“We try to have the best quality things we can find,” he said. “You got to go the extra mile in order for it to be advantageous. Otherwise it’s just an expense people will incur by running the contract shop.”
As a contract shop, prices vary, but Pappajohn prefers to sell the best: hardwood rather than pressed wood furniture — that kind of thing. Nothing too banged up. Occasionally, he’ll do repair work on items that are worth fixing, but if well-meaning people bring him soiled or broken items he ends up walking those up the hill to the transfer station trash. He doesn’t sell clothes, but there’s a clothing recycling station nearby.
“It’s a really neat shop,” he said. “It’s one of a kind … I’ve had other transfer stations come in and say ‘How can we run it like that?”’
Running the store this way was partially  a matter of necessity. Many years ago, Bedford, along with Manchester and Nashua, attempted the swap shop model. But Manchester and Nashua soon closed their doors because of foul play and fights that often broke out.
“What happened was people wind up taking advantage of it,” Pappajohn said. “That’s why Manchester and Nashua closed theirs. It became a matter of people waiting for other people to drop things off and it caused fights. So by doing it as a contract shop, pretty much everything is for sale.”
That’s good news for those of us who prefer the most dramatic part of shopping experiences to be the excitement of finding that have-to-have piece.  
As seen in the February 13, 2014 issue of the Hippo.

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