Coffee tables and couches from executive offices. Filing cabinets. Lockers. Desks. Refrigerators—some working, some not. Assorted tables. And. Oh. So. Many. Chairs. Most of them office variety, some of them swivel, for as little as a dollar. Plates and wineglasses from catering services or special events.
“We’ve had folks who are starting restaurants come in and load up,” says Keith Davison (x’04). “You could stock your apartment. There’s a lot of stuff—a little bit of everything.”
It’s true that serious shoppers—Washington State University college students, perhaps—could practically furnish entire apartments from the wares at the wonderland that is WSU Surplus Stores. At the very least, alumni could own a piece—or many pieces, new and used—of WSU history.
Upright pianos. Exercise equipment, from elliptical machines to punching bags. New coffee mugs promoting Cougar basketball. Also new: crimson T-shirts from the 2017 Holiday Bowl and football cleats, size 17, in their original box. Roller skates, which Davison guesses are from physical education classes in the 1970s, for $5 per pair, down from $15. Chinook yearbooks from 1957, 1958, 1959, 1994, and more.
Used keyboards, new T-shirts, holiday knickknacks, old yearbooks, football cleats, and metal filing cabinets are just a few of the items found at the wonderland that is WSU Surplus Stores. (Photos Robert Hubner)
Some of the more fun items include a popcorn machine, former football coach Mike Leach talking heads, custom display cases in the shapes of “1” and “2” and “5” from the university’s 125th anniversary (sold), and a big cardboard box full of rubber boots likely left over from the WSU Creamery—a steal at $10 per pair.
Items highlighted on Instagram and Facebook tend to sell fast. In fact, there’s no online store because, Davison says, “inventory changes so quickly.”
There are, however, online as well as in-person auctions, where patrons can often find larger and more unusual WSUsed items such as a 1960s metal milling machine, hurdles from WSU track and field, rolls of artificial turf, and relics from soon-to-be-demolished Johnson Hall.
“It’s a weird mix of lab and farm equipment, office furniture, athletic gear, and stuff students leave in the dorms,” says Davison, who’s worked at WSU Surplus Stores for 14 years. He started as a warehouse operator and now leads day-to-day operations. “We handle stuff from all over the WSU system—from Extension to the Spokane and Tri-Cities campuses. Basically, anything and everything that is WSU-owned, with the exception of real estate, comes to us.”
WSU Surplus Stores is charged with proper handling and disposal of university property. State law governs the process. Hazardous chemicals or waste aren’t accepted.
“We work with departments to make sure everything is handled at fair market value so taxpayers aren’t getting short-changed,” Davison says. “If we can return some money back to the department—$159,391 in the last fiscal year—we will do that. But we are a self-sustaining operation. Sales support our operations.”
The center also handles departmental storage and works closely with WSU Facilities Services Operations Waste Management and its recycling programs. “We minimize waste as much as we can,” Davison says. “It’s a continual process.”
During the first half of 2022, WSU Surplus Stores collected nearly 95 tons of university-owned items. At $137 per ton, it would cost about $13,000 to dispose of those things at the local landfill.
Monday through Thursday is for pick-up, sorting, and pricing. Those days are also reserved for shopping by WSU departments and state agencies as well as municipalities, school districts, and nonprofits. On Friday, the warehouse at 250 Dairy Road in Pullman opens to the public. “We see a lot of the same faces every week,” says Davison, noting WSU Surplus Stores sold 18,575 items during the last fiscal year. “There are quite a few regulars who get here right when we open at 10 a.m.”
John and Cathy Burris of Troy, Idaho, are frequent shoppers. Among the items they’ve purchased are filing cabinets to store his tools and her sewing patterns. “I can’t remember what we paid for them, but it was a good deal,” she says. “You just never know what you’re going to find,” he says.
One of the strangest things former material resources manager Wayne Gash ever sold at a WSU Surplus Stores auction was a three-legged calf, he told WSU Week in 1999. Another unusual sell: a bottomless wooden boat. (The buyer turned it into a sandbox.)
Reusing and recycling are the heart of the operation, which traces its roots to 1946. That’s when Charles Byron “CB” Jones came to Pullman to manage Central Stores and Surplus Property. He spent most of his time acquiring US Army surplus, repurposing equipment, and becoming known as Mr. Fix-It. Jones managed the department until 1974. Sales were open to the public in the mid-1980s.
“There are people who have been coming here since before I was working here,” Davison says. “That’s a fun part of the job, meeting not only people we work with on campus but customers who come to the store.”
Time-lapse photos Robert Hubner
Vintage images of university surplus items
Read a 1975 story about WSU Surplus Stores in the Daily Evergreen
Read a 1999 story about WSU Surplus Stores in WSU Week
Surplus stores in the WSU Libraries Digital Collections
Oral history of Charles Byron “CB” Jones, the first manager of Central Stores and Surplus Property from 1946 to 1974