It is Tuesday at 12:55 p.m., and a half dozen men hover anxiously outside the gray industrial door leading into UCSB’s Central Stores building. They make small talk about car engines before charging into the well-organized junkyard.
“I call it the ‘get a life club’,” said Jeff Goldmann, manager of Furniture Services and Surplus Property, as he opens the door for his regulars.
Goldmann, who helps run the store, is just one of several people who browses the shelves of Central Stores every week. The building is a clearinghouse for surplus used equipment from campus departments as well as unclaimed items from UC Police Dept.’s lost and found.
Every Tuesday and Thursday from 1 to 4 p.m., the store, located on Mesa Road just east of Los Carneros Road, attracts a variety of clientele from both UCSB and surrounding areas who are in search of unique finds. Items for sale often include antiquated Apple computers and PCs, research laboratory equipment, well-worn office chairs, freezers from the dining halls, unhinged and trampled RAZR cell phones, and boxes of forgotten sunglasses.
As customers scavenger the room for treasures, Goldmann describes some of the more memorable oddities in the building’s collection, such as blueprints from the original Engineering Building and an oscilloscope – an instrument used to measure voltage.
“We actually have an old dental chair from Student Health sitting in our backyard,” Goldmann said.
The veteran shoppers, who had just a few minutes ago chatted contentedly with each other, now beeline toward bins heaped with old CPUs, monitors and keyboards.
Goldmann said e-waste, or obsolete electronic equipment, swamps Central Stores and is usually thrown away within a short period if not sold.
“E-waste never really stops,” Goldmann said. “We’ll empty out the bins one day and they’ll fill up on the next.”
The customers of Central Stores are as varied as its contents. Group members hold up choice finds and grunt frustrations when such bounty cannot be found.
Second-year computer engineering major Brendan Shanks, a frequenter of the surplus sales, said he once stumbled upon the school’s old supercomputer while looking for something of use.
“It must have been worth a million dollars 10 years ago, but now it’s just floor space,” Shanks said.
Meanwhile, retiree S. Winn said he goes to Central Stores to purchase old computers, fix them up and sell them to local schools like San Marcos High School.
During the rush to pick out the day’s purchases, another frequenter, Semi-retired consultant David Sangster, skirts the bins of e-waste and walks to the nearest vacant floor space in the warehouse. He begins tearing open a cardboard tube he found on the shelves that line the warehouse’s walls.
“Check that out! Baja,” he said, as geological maps of Mexico’s Sinaloa province spill onto the floor.
Central Stores Manager Steve Howson said the store determines the prices of items by consulting eBay.com and making educated guesses.
“Most of the people here have years and years of experience, so we look at each item with an experienced eye,” Howson said. “eBay also helps. It’s basically common sense.”
Jennifer Stroh, an employee of the UCSB Natural Reserve System, left Central Stores with a used 21-inch Apple Studio Display monitor for a computer in her office. She said the piece only cost her a little over $25.
“It’s a really good deal, and it’s also really good for recycling,” Stroh said.
Although the surplus sales are growing in popularity, Howson said Central Stores is still just breaking even.
“Historically, it’s been a losing proposition, considering the amount of work involved,” Howson said.
In terms of discovery, artist and designer John Taylor said one person’s trash is another person’s inspiration.
“I am an artist – I become obsessive,” Taylor said. “Things that would never come together come together in my mind. Sometimes you win, and sometimes you lose, but if you do well, you can make $1,000.”