Second Hand Shop Coming to Transfer Station

Town Council approves $5,000 for recycling committee to set up space for an independent third party to open shop.

A new second-hand shop is coming to Merrimack, and it may not be where you expect.

The Town Council on Thursday night authorized Town Manager Eileen Cabanel to spend up to $5,000 to prep new location for what has been the “swap shop” at the Merrimack Transfer Station and give it a whole new twist.

A recycling committee made up of Cabanel, Finance Director Paul Micali, Public Works Director Rick Seymour, Solid Waste Foreman Steve Doumas, Recycling Attendant Ian Robinson and Cabanel's Executive Secretary Rebecca Thompson, are hoping to pull a page from a success story in Bedford as a way to encourage recycling in town and make that area of the transfer station a bit safer.

Micali said the committee was formed to review the operations at the transfer station, with a closer look at the town's single stream recycling program and how to make it more effective.

As Micali explained to the Council, each ton of recycling removed from the town's trash tonnage is money saved for Merrimack.

The town recycles just under 1,500 tons of materials a year – up 50 percent from before they went single stream, and that makes the recycling facility very busy on weekends.

But the committee has noticed over the last several months that despite the easy recycling rules – everything that can be recycled goes into a single stream – there are still a lot of recyclables ending up in the trash.

Micali said that is in part, he believes, to the amount of time it take to get through the recycling house at the transfer station, especially on a Saturday morning.

Off to the side inside the recycling house, there is a “swap shop” that attracts people looking to find treasures left by others or to leave behind used items of their own.

The problems, Micali said the committee found there were few, but significant:

  • People stopping to browse the swap area are creating delays for people that want to get in and out of the recyclables area
  • The location is safe, but could be safer, as the swap is in an area heavily traveled by cars
  • People sometimes leave items that are not acceptable and stuff the town would charge for disposal
  • It can get messy, taking the time of the recycling attendants to clean the space up.

“It's a safe location but it's not as safe as it would be in its own building,” Micali said. Which is why the committee started taking a closer look at neighbor Bedford.

Bedford's “swap shop” is actually a low-priced second-hand store called Second Chance. It's inside a small building at the far end of the town's transfer station and the shop is manned all hours that it is open by an attendant who leases the space from the town.

“Nashua had a swap shop, they closed it,” Micali said. “Bedford has a 'swap shop,' it's run by an independent third party.”

This model has been very successful in Bedford for the last 15 years, Micali said.

In their proposal Thursday night, Micali and Cabanel told the Council the committee wants to take an empty portable classroom from the Highway Department and move it to the area of the transfer station between the computer/electronics area and the scrap metal. They would run electricity to the building and lease it to someone with consignment shop/second hand shop experience, who would run the shop.

This person would have the ability to accept or refuse any items he or she wanted and would be able to charge a nominal fee for people to take items from the shop. He or she would also be able to buy items from people to take into the shop as they see fit.

The lessee would be required to pay the monthly electricity bill and any upgrades they want to do, the town will pay for the building to be placed there and for the electricity hook up.

The lessee will also have to meet the town's insurance requirements and maintain hours that closely resemble those of the transfer station. It would cost approximately $5,000 to get started, but Micali said the return on investment would be seen in about two and a half years.

Micali said they chose the location not only for the safety of it being out of the way and for the fact that it shouldn't disrupt the traffic flow on the property, but an added benefit is the opportunity to put closed circuit cameras up on the scrap metal side to keep an eye out for “pickers” who rummage the scrap metal pile taking items from the pile that provide income at the transfer station.

The attendant would not take items that the town charges for for disposal, but could take items like furniture, books, CDs, DVDs and more.

The end result, Micali said is an easier experience at the recycling center, a safe place to rummage used items and hopefully even higher recycling tonnage – saving the town even more in trash disposal fees.

Town Councilor Jackie Flood was resistant to the idea, suggesting that the reason people use the “swap shop” is because it's free and she was worried that the attendant wouldn't staff it a much as it needed to be or wouldn't be responsive enough in making sure items that needed to be disposed of would make it to the right place.

“To me this is taking on quite a bit with very little return,” Flood said. She later added, “It's charming when you can drive up some place and drop off a book and pick up a new one … this isn't charming.”

Micali said prices would be minimal and that given a lease/tenant situation, if it was something that didn't work out in Merrimack, the town would be able to terminate the project at the end of the lease.

“We're in contract talks with someone who is interested in doing this and has experience in this area,” Micali said.

Council Vice Chairman Finlay Rothhaus said he would definitely like to see an easy out for the town if it wasn't working, but that he likes the idea.

“I've had people tell me they aren't going to recycle any more because it takes too long,” Rothhaus said, sharing in an observation Micali gave during the presentation. Despite the fact that all recyclables can be put together, making it easier than ever, the time it takes to get through that shed is slowed significantly by the “swap shop,” Micali said the committee observed.

Councilor Tom Koenig said he, too, liked the idea, but cautioned there might be a little “blow back” in the beginning when people learn they have to start paying for items there. Koenig suggested they be careful about calling this a “swap shop” since they are moving away from that idea.
Councilor Dan Dwyer said he thought the whole plan was great.

“I predict this thing to be a very big success, it will create a better recycling shed,” Dwyer said. “Great job, I think you took the ball with it and really ran.”

Carolyn Dube December 23, 2012 at 04:05 AM
Again, my apologies, John. I thought rent was inherent in the word lessee in that sentence. I will try to be clearer in the future.
Herbert December 26, 2012 at 01:28 PM
I can't believe the town is trying to shut down one of the last free benifits to tax payers.
Gary G. Krupp December 26, 2012 at 03:08 PM
I am a transfer station regular and I think this idea has merit. I am not sure whether it will take off or not but I am willing to give the Town Council the benefit of the doubt here as it seems they are proceeding cautiously with mechanisms to back out of the deal if it doesn't work. For me personally, I like the idea of moving the "Still good" area out of the recycling facility traffic flow. I think the current setup is non-optimal and creates too much of a bottleneck which in turn creates recycling disincentives. I also like to drop off and pick up from the still good area but like others have stated here, I am not convinced I am willing to pay for it.
John Harrahy January 04, 2013 at 09:21 PM
Gary, I'm also a regular RC/TS user, and I've never seen any of the "problems" cited as the reason for this move. Have you? The swap area doesn't cause the backups, it's the disposing of real recyclables, several trips back and forth per vehicle. I've never seen anybody blocking traffic while they browse. They all pull out and park out of the way. And the idea that "lots" of recyclables go into the TS, and that people are bypassing the RC and dumping their recyclables in the TS are both arguments that were advanced during the PAYT controversy, they were challenged then and nobody could produce any data to substantiate the allegations. Ever since then, I look for that every time I go there. I've never seen anyone leave the line at the RC to go straight to the TS, and I don't see any dumping of obvious recyclables at the TS. Of the 4 arguments advanced, the idea that it will save the town money can't be supported with any data, safety is no issue (never been a safety issue with the swap area), the issue that some items the town charges to take (electronics and tires) are left in the swap area may have some merit, but again, I've never seen it, and I go to the swap area on every trip. So that leaves the 4th argument - it's a bother to the RC/TS people to have to dispose of the left over swap items that nobody takes. This is a valid concern, but it doesn't cost the town money, and is no reason to spend $5,000, to say nothing of depriving the townspeople of free stuff.
Gary G. Krupp January 07, 2013 at 01:00 PM
John, I would say that I have seen some of the problems outlined. I can't say that I can point to people bypassing the RC because of the backup but I can say that I personally dread pulling into the shed if it is busy because invariably some people will want a quick browse through the still good items. Others, as you note, have a good deal of recycling and must make several trips back and forth from their vehicle. If the shed is busy, I generally try to find one of the parking spots outside of the shed so that I can make a quicker stop. I also think you are right when you say that there isn't real data that says the still good area is the cause of the bottle-neck or the lack of participation by some residents but I am not sure how one could practically collect that data. A trial move of the still good area seems like a good experiment to me. Try it out, see if the participation rates improve and if they don't, make another plan. I am still not convinced that the "consignment store" model for the items will work and frankly it might work against what the TC is trying to do. If purchasing items doesn't appeal to TS users, those items could end up in the waste stream negating gains in the recycling participation. I guess we'll have to wait and see.


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