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Swap Shop

NORTHAMPTON — The city aims to open a permanent swap shop where residents can leave or pick up items that might otherwise wind up in a landfill.

After several years of hosting popular one-day collection events urging residents to reuse items from toys to tools, organizers are zeroing in on a permanent home for a reuse center. The new enterprise would be located in part of an old transfer station at the city’s now-closed landfill off Glendale Road. The Reuse Committee, a special board under the purview of the Board of Public Works, is now preparing to spruce up the spot with donated materials and labor.

Should the center open in the coming months as envisioned, under the name The ReCenter, it would mark the culmination of something that many residents have wanted, dating back to the 1990s, said Susan Waite, the city’s recycling and solid waste coordinator.

“It’s the concept that would not die, but we’re really going to make it a reality this time,” Waite said. “Northampton is so ripe for this. I feel like the time is right.”

The Reuse Committee spent the last several months researching the best way to set up the swap shop, from budgeting, staffing and operations. The committee recently presented its findings to the BPW, which gave the group $10,000 next fiscal year from its solid waste enterprise fund to help offset the cost of fixing up the new space. The space needs electricity, new interior framing and other carpentry work and a new door, among other upgrades.

“It needs some TLC, but we’re going to make a go of it,” DPW Director Edward S. Huntley said. “It’s a start and we’ll see what happens.”

Several questions still need to be answered before the committee can set an opening date, including any requirements that will come from a building permit. The city’s Central Services Department will also help with some electrical work.

Plans call for the center to initially open Saturdays to coincide with the city-operated Glendale Road transfer station that accepts bulky waste and grass clippings.

Some examples of items that will be accepted: toys, select sporting goods, small working appliances and housewares, durable medical equipment, tools, yard and garden equipment, select building materials, arts and craft supplies and office furniture. Everything in the center will be free except a small number of items to be sold or auctioned at fundraising events, according to the committee’s business plan.

The center is to include a special section of traditional and non-traditional art materials for teachers, artists and individuals, and educational repair and reuse services.

It won’t accept items requiring repair or major restoration, boxes of unsorted materials, food, TVs and computers, liquids, fluorescent bulbs, and a host of other items.

Waite said the center aims to be a “zero-waste enterprise,” meaning that it will only take items for which there is another user. That’s different from other swap shops the committee studied, including one in Leverett, where amost everything is accepted, but then the center bears the expense of throwing away some items.

“We like to say, don’t give it to us if it’s not something you’d give to your best friend,” Waite said.

The goal of the reuse initiative is to encourage people to rethink their role as consumers by promoting creative recovery, reuse, restoration and repair. The prefix “re” has significant meaning, which is partly how the name ReCenter came about, Waite said.

The Reuse Committee has hosted a variety of events that have become popular in recent years. Some of these include a tailgate tag sale, a toy exchange, a costume swap and art supply exchange and collection of hard-to-recycle materials.

Based on the support for these events, the committee believes residents are prepared to support this reuse mission. In two years, the committee has collected more than 500 email addresses of residents who want to be notified about events and more than 600 Facebook users who follow a “Northampton Reuse” Facebook page.

The committee can now accept contributions and money from fundraisers after the City Council established a special account to hold the funds, used to operate the swap shop, promote events and conduct workshops aimed at waste reduction.

The Reuse Committee is in the hunt for more volunteers, especially those with construction experience. To learn more about the idea or to volunteer, visit www.northamptonma.gov/reduce-waste.

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