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The Swap Shop: Widely Praised, But Not Problem-Free

Even as the Swap Shop receives high honors, the town has issued new rules and founders are seeking volunteers to help keep things orderly.

At a luncheon on Friday, the Community Fund of Darien named the Swap Shop its project of the year—undeniably high praise for the young program.

But it hasn't been all smooth sailing for the project.

What started as an idea over breakfast at the Sugar Bowl two years ago and became a reality in December, has already sparked a bit controversy.

"The Swap Shop: Last Resort for Good Stuff" was envisioned by founders Susan Cameron, Reese Hutchison and Dot Kelly as a way to salvage usable goods from being thrown into the dump.  Local residents could take what they wanted, contribute other items as they saw fit, and the town would save money by not having to pay garbage hauling fees.

Preferred Access?

But after the Swap Shop opened last December, it seemed that a few town employees from DPW were spending a lot of time cherry-picking the donations before other residents had a chance. 

That prompted to an edict that banned town workers from the white tent completely, leading to a couple weeks of messy overflow.

The town DPW workers, it turns out, wouldn't clear unwanted items from the Swap Shop on their own time if they were being denied access. 

But a peace settlement was brokered—one allowing employees who are also town residents to access the Swap Shop on Saturdays—and it's back to a booming business for the help-yourself-to-anything operation.

Success Begets Challenges

"Everyone loves it," says co-founder Susan Cameron. "We're thrilled with its success."

But Cameron (no relation to this reporter) is seeking volunteer "ambassadors" to monitor donations and redirect the truly junky and broken items to the dump. 

She suggests that donors ask themselves, "Would I want or use this?" 

If the answer is no, trash it.  But if the answer is yes, also consider donating the item to the DCA Thrift Shop or Person to Person where it might be sold or given to the needy.

But Pat D'Arinzo of DPW says that a neighbor's trash can still be treasure. 

He says the better question is, "Can someone repair it?" If the answer is yes, leave it at the Swap Shop.

D'Arinzo cites a number of chairs that were salvaged for repair.  Also electronics, pictures and analog TV sets.  Even bulky furniture has found new owners just hours after being dropped off. 

Swap OR Shop

Cameron says "Swap Shop" is a bit of a misnomer:  you don't need to donate something to take something. 

She'd like to see more people stopping by once or twice a week to look over the newly arrived items. 

Even scavengers are welcome. You might find an item to re-sell on eBay.

"The whole idea is to keep stuff out of the dump.  We expect that the money saved on hauling fees will pay for the tent ($8,000) in 18 months," she says.

Yet, not everything finds a taker.  Cameron concedes, "You get some big stuff in there. If it's not moving, it needs to be gone."

That's when DPW comes down with its bucket-loader and removes the unwanted items, taking them up the hill to "the pit" for eventual hauling away and incineration.

Bright Future for Junk

Both Cameron and D'Arinzo dream of expanding the Swap Shop to a permanent building that can accept construction materials.

In the meantime, D'Arinzo cautions swappers not to lean items up against the inside of the white canvas tent.

"It's not a wall," he says. "Something is going to tear that fabric!"

All Darien residents with an RDA "Dump" sticker may swap to their heart's content.

The Swap Shop is open the same hours as the dump, Monday - Saturday, 7:00 a.m. - 2:45 p.m.

Kara Glover Billhardt May 18, 2010 at 12:42 PM
Would it be too complicated to offer the unwanted items, after they have been sitting there for a while, on Craigslist? Upload a photo to the free section. It's easy, it's free and then maybe less in the dump? OR maybe one Saturday a month post a notice on there saying 'tent clean-out free good stuff' to those with no RDA Dump sticker?

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