UT Surplus REuse Store breathes new life into used university furniture, books

AUSTIN (KXAN) — In a 13,000-square-foot facility off Burnet Road in north Austin lie thousands of books, furniture pieces and unusual finds from the University of Texas at Austin. Each week, the UT Surplus REuse Store opens its doors to hundreds of UT students and community members alike, in an effort to breathe new life into repurposed goods.

“The main goal is sustainability — to divert as much material from the landfill as possible,” said Mark Engelman, resource recovery manager at UT.

What began as a test run in 2017 has become a twice-weekly operation. The store is filled with materials no longer used in university operations but that are still in good shape. People are welcome to come to shop the shelves, pick out furniture and thrift for a possible art piece, some dishware or even, yes, a headless wrestler mannequin.

“A lot of décor, old paintings, books are certainly interesting. Sometimes we get sculptures, and the performing arts department, they have items that are no longer needed, that may have been props in a production,” he said. “We’ve even gotten items from Austin City Limits, from the original studio. So we enjoy all that and it changes from week to week.”

How it works

Engelman oversees daily operations alongside a few fellow staffers and a handful of paid student interns. Those interns help work on projects based on sustainability initiatives while working at the store.

Students collect analytics on how much weight the university is diverting from the landfills, customer demographics and the best-selling items. From there, those projects help inform best practices and how the university can continue to improve its waste reduction and sustainability efforts.

Each month, the store helps divert between 10 to 15 tons of materials from ending up in landfills.

From a pricing standpoint, the store tries to make things as accessible as possible for people without the means to shell out hundreds of dollars on a new desk or a piece of art.

‘Dutch auction-style pricing’

The UT Surplus REuse Store adopted a “Dutch auction-style pricing,” Engelman said, based on a color-coded system. New items are marked with blue tags; for every month something remains in the store, the price drops by 25%.

If an item reaches the 75% off discount threshold and remains unsold, then the store will only charge $1 for the purchase.

For community members looking for a sweet discount or students moving into their first college apartment, he said he hopes the store gives them the freedom to find affordable essentials, all while carrying a little bit of Longhorn history with them.

“Austin has a lot of passionate people that are interested in sustainability and reuse and repurposing,” he said. “We have a lot of like-minded people here: You see a lot of engagement between customers as well, and our student interns are very engaged with the students, and they are typically studying in some form of sustainability as well. So that’s really what it’s focused around, is repurposing and reusing good, usable goods.”

The store is open to the public on Thursdays from 3-7 p.m. and Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. More information can be found on the store’s Facebook, Instagram and Twitter pages.


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