Sitting on Paint Branch Parkway is the university’s best-kept secret.
It’s a place where you can buy everyday items, such as televisions or bicycles. Or you can find more unique trinkets, such as a polygraph test or wicker basket. And it’s all at a fraction of the retail price.
That place is Terrapin Trader, a shop that accepts various items from University System of Maryland schools that the institutions no longer want. The shop then sells those items to other universities, companies or the general public.
“We can sell everything, as long as we have the space to hold it,” said Mike Painter, the store’s manager.
While few students know about the store, sales for 2013 have already exceeded 2012 sales, Painter said. Terrapin Trader has seen about $500,000 in sales this year, while it sold just less than that in 2012.
Terrapin Trader opened in May 1994, following the university’s struggles to auction its used items; test tubes and tractors weren’t generating enough money to continue with auctions.
“It was just a way to clean the campus up, but it wasn’t really working,” said Painter, who has been a university employee for 34 years. “Space is a premium on campus, and they didn’t want people storing things and becoming pack rats.”
Each new piece of university equipment is given a shelf life, Painter said, and at the end of that time, it becomes a part of Terrapin Trader. Once an item sells, a fraction of the proceeds go to the department that donated it.
While people often go for the household items, Painter remembers selling a robot from the engineering department for $350 that “looked like a cross between R2-D2 and C-3PO from Star Wars.”
Terrapin Trader has sold $43,000 worth of test tubes and microscopes to Monash University in Australia, jukebox speakers for $2,400 to a company in Virginia and a street sweeper for $15,200 to a customer in Michigan.
And there’s something for everyone. Students often come looking for furniture, bicycles and other household items, Painter said.
“Students come in here all the time looking to outfit their off-campus houses,” he said. “But we do sell a lot of bikes … There was a line out the door, and every bike sold within a half hour.”
Senior Nadira Ramnarain hadn’t heard of Terrapin Trader but said she wishes she had known about it earlier.
“It sounds like it would be much cheaper and easier than going to Lowe’s or Ikea,” the cell biology and genetics major said. “I would have liked to have known about it when I was moving into my apartment because that’s a great idea.”
Although the store certainly enjoys its increasing success, Painter prides himself most on its ability to maintain environmentally sustainable practices. Every item is resold or stripped down to its basic elements for repurposing, Painter said.
“We were green before being green was cool,” he said, adding that unsold computers and “e-waste” are sitting in trailers waiting to be stripped down for their metals and plastics.
For Becky Kim, however, Terrapin Trader isn’t an appealing store option.
“If they’re reselling old couches from various Commons apartments, I don’t think I’d want it,” said the junior communication and sociology major. “It sounds like a good idea, but some of the furniture at this university isn’t the best quality.”
Painter says good quality, though, is the store’s motto.
“We always say that if we wouldn’t buy it, we wouldn’t sell it,” he said. “This is a great place for students to come because you won’t pay an arm and a leg for any of our items. Students even get a 10-percent discount when they show their IDs. It’s really a great place for students to make purchases.”