Students hunt for bargains at swap meet on St. Paul campus

Joseph Corbett

In the middle of helping a customer, Mark Olson stopped to announce another sale item to a room of browsing students.
“Got a great deal on shoes! Twenty percent off the marked prices as you see them on the table! Treat yourselves … it’s Mother’s Day!”
Olson, the assistant director of finance at the St. Paul Student Center, is one of the organizers of the 15th annual Bicycle and Camping Gear Swap. The sale, held in the Northstar Ballroom at the student center, began Thursday and will stretch into the weekend. The nonprofit sale is a chance for not only vendors to sell new and used gear, but also for individuals to trade in their equipment.
Just three hours into the first day of the sale, more than 40 of the 175 bikes in stock were sold, Olson said.
“The new clothing is pretty cheap. I found a jacket,” said Pradermchai Ponlawan, a graduate student in Structural Engineering. Ponlawan said he was just browsing. But other students found some of the deals hard to pass up.
“I’ve been waiting a year for this sale,” said Patrick O’Rourke, a senior in natural resources. After finding a rental return tent from The Outdoor Store, O’Rourke said he was looking for a bike to ride on campus. “I just want something that I don’t have to worry about,” he said.
Pointing at an old road bike, O’Rourke said, “I’m looking for something like this. I need the basket. Ten bucks!”
Jennifer Nagode, a graduate student in the School of Nursing, found one new and one used frame backpack. “I found two things I want for my family,” she said.
Olson and a team of volunteers worked Tuesday and Wednesday and brought in new and used gear from individuals and commercial vendors.
Olson said the cooperative sale offers the “best of both worlds” to both buyers and sellers. Outdoor enthusiasts can find new or replacement gear for inexpensive prices, while merchants are relieved of clearance items.
Olson said that organizers contact more than 50 merchants before the sale and often take in equipment from about 30 stores. “We had an individual that brought in 50 bikes,” Olson said. “Last time, he did the same thing.”
The swap also accepts donations from Wheels for Winners, an inner-city project for Twin Cities youth, sponsored by the Salem Evangelical Free Church in Minneapolis.
Tom McComas, a volunteer for the program, said that students in the program repair old bikes and donate them either to others in need of a bike or to the Student Center’s sale. The earnings from the swap are then used to help fund their program.
Olson said that volunteers are still needed for the remainder of the sale and will receive a free T-shirt.