Darren Kennedy, senior analyst with the State Surplus Property program, holds a sign that once directed drivers to the state Capitol. (Jake Thomas/Salem Reporter)
When the military has extra combat boots, when buses from the local transit district reach a half million miles and when a giant foam cheeseburger from a lottery advertising campaign has served its purpose, they all end up in a warehouse in northeast Salem.
Nestled in the industrial landscape, the 72,000-square-foot Surplus Property General Store serves as a second-hand store for the government. In the warehouse, managed by Oregon’s surplus property program, the public can purchase heavy machinery, functional no-frills clothing, bags of knives, file cabinets and other sundry items the federal, state and local governments are trying to unload.
Some items come from a military base closure or a state agency preparing for the next budget cycle, said Darren Kennedy, senior analyst with the State Surplus Property program. But sometimes an item’s backstory and where it ends up remain a mystery.
“It really does ebb and flow,” said Kennedy, standing in the lobby to the store’s warehouse. “Sometimes it’s a lot; sometimes it’s not very much at all. There’s no real rhyme or reason to it.”
Where the items sold in the store end up varies. They are purchased by other governments, nonprofits, or businesses that sell used goods, Kennedy explained.
He said the market is large. For the last fiscal year, the surplus program sold $3.67 million in state property, the majority of which was purchased by the public. Other government agencies bought about half a million dollars’ worth of property. The program also sold $769,204 worth of federal property. Proceeds go to the original agency, but the program charges money to offset its costs.
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The Oregon surplus store sells a range of items that once belonged to the government. (Jake Thomas/Salem Reporter)
Kennedy stepped from the lobby to the warehouse, passing a case displaying a piccolo, mandolin and keyboard. Next to it stood a stretcher used to transfer patients needing medical care, as well as a set of crutches and boxes full of mousetraps and radios.
Kennedy said the warehouse used to be more organized with aisles for electronics and clothing.
“We decided to just kind of make them a little bit of a hodgepodge,” he said.
The warehouse is full of tidy shelves containing Coast Guard sweaters, combat boots and wire conduits. Other items, including a pizza oven, a police motorcycle, a hulking diesel engine, industrial kilns and a crate of tents are scattered throughout. A large, shiny, metal kitchen mixer was tagged with a sign that it had been sold a government agency that works with seniors and disabled people.
“We see it all,” Kennedy said.
Oregon surplus store includes helmets once used by the police agencies. (Jake Thomas/Salem Reporter)
Rhonda Mann coordinates the program’s online auctions, posting items on two websites that both work as an eBay for government property. She said that some customers are looking for bulldozers, front loaders or other heavy equipment. She said the most expensive item sold was a zipper-like machine that moves road barriers that went for $213,942.
Other items don’t have as clear a purpose. Last year, the surplus program sold a giant nose used by the Oregon Health Authority as an educational prop about the importance of not spreading germs. The item sold in an online auction for $108.
“There were a lot of people bidding on it just because it was an unusual item,” she said.
In 2012, the surplus store sold a replica cheeseburger, roughly 4 feet in diameter, from an Oregon Lottery commercial. The commercial features five grinning women wearing white dresses jogging across a meadow while carrying the giant cheeseburger. Pulsing techno music plays in the background as they bring the cheeseburger to an expectant man. The cheeseburger was wrapped in plastic at the warehouse before selling for $547.
A giant cheeseburger for sale (Courtesy/Surplus Property program)
Kennedy said some customers have found ways to make money off items the government wants to get rid of. The surplus program sells a large volume of items to a port that’s made a business of refurbishing fishing vessels.
He pointed to several black metal barrels in the warehouse. When the Portland International Airport fills up four of them with knives, scissors, corkscrews and other sharp objects passengers aren’t allowed on planes, they’ll be picked up by the surplus program. Kennedy said that from there, they’ll be sorted into plastic bags and sold off.
A plastic bag full of Swiss Army knives goes for $150 and Kennedy said people will buy them with the intent of cleaning them up and selling them for a profit.
A box of items passengers weren't supposed to bring on the plane. They will soon be for sale. (Jake Thomas/Salem Reporter)
For sale: a bag of knives. (Jake Thomas/Salem Reporter)
Beyond the warehouse are parking lots with government-owned vehicles for sale that include a Mini Cooper from a civil forfeiture and a crunched Toyota Prius with the words “Driver Education” emblazoned on the side. There are also buses from Cherriots, Salem’s regional mass transit system. Kennedy said they go for a couple thousand dollars and might be used by small cities.
“They don’t go for a lot because they have a kajillion miles on them,” he said, noting that they've racked up half a million miles.
But for the bus, and other items, there’s a buyer out there.
A car once used by Portland Community College for drivers' education will soon be available for purchase. (Jake Thomas/Salem Reporter)
Contact reporter Jake Thomas at 503-575-1251 or firstname.lastname@example.org or @jakethomas2009.