Town Dump New, Chic Place to Shop

Bargain hunters in the toniest suburbs are pulling up in their cars to pick through their neighbors' trash and making off with everything from Weber grills to valuable old books. The competition has become fierce for "shopping" at the dump.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

The shaky economy has got many of us looking for ways to economize, even, it seems, folks who really don't have to. Shoppers in some of the nation's toniest suburbs are flocking to a surprising kind of bargain spot.

NPR's Tovia Smith went to check it out.

TOVIA SMITH: Wellesley, Massachusetts is the kind of town where a Wal-Mart would never pass zoning. The town is full of boutiques that cater to the upper crust, not so good for bargains. But there's one place at the edge of town where deal doesn't even begin to describe it.

U: Oh, wow. Shreve, Crump Low. Yeah.

SMITH: Welcome to the Wellesley town dump, where the trash is as high-end as the Beamers that bring it in.

U: Oh, I found some jade, jade statues.

SMITH: It's like a garage sale gone Gucci. The town's got dozens of folding tables set up in departments - housewares, lighting, sports. Regulars like Mei-Mei Ellerman(ph), an accomplished academic who's traveled the world, come here to drop as well as to shop.

SMITH: These are Wedgwood, these cups and saucers.

SMITH: And the price was right?

SMITH: Yes, the price was perfect.

SMITH: Everything here goes for nothing, and at the dump they really do have everything.

SMITH: It's an organizer.

SMITH: Lyn and Ralph Cassell(ph) and Karen Phrom have snatched up a plastic spice rack for their new granite kitchen.

SMITH: If this fits, I'm all set.

SMITH: So you guys, I'm just guessing here, you guys probably could afford to go somewhere else and buy this stuff new.

SMITH: Oh, sure. Absolutely, yes.

SMITH: But...

SMITH: But that's not the point of it. The point of it is, you know, the thrill of the chase, see what you can find here.

SMITH: You'll never know what you're going to find.

SMITH: You'll never know what you can find.

SMITH: We found a gigantic Rescue Heroes, that's like a $70 toy.

SMITH: A flat screen monitor for my computer.

SMITH: An almost brand new bicycle, and it came with a bike helmet and training wheels.

SMITH: The real prize was a lovely Waterford Crystal Marquis bowl, perfect condition.

SMITH: You know in this town, people throw out stuff that, you know, that's pretty valuable.

SMITH: Jeff Layman owns several vacation properties that he's fully furnished at the dump.

SMITH: You know, most of the stuff here is fairly expensive.

SMITH: Yeah, this isn't just any trash.

SMITH: No.

SMITH: This is Wellesley trash.

SMITH: Yeah, it really is. And the stuff turns over pretty quickly. You know, in a snap of a finger.

(SOUNDBITE OF PEOPLE TALKING)

SMITH: Experienced shoppers like Arlene Baker Wan(ph) swarm the fully-loaded Mercedes and BMWs that pull up to the Jersey barriers.

SMITH: Half of the time we get it coming right out of the car.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SMITH: Yeah.

SMITH: That's just the fun of it and we love it.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SMITH: For some dump devotees, it's about lightening the load in landfills, and for sure eBay and Craigslist have made used stuff more hip. Today, upper crust dumps like these are becoming so popular, some are hiring police to keep out the carpetbaggers.

SMITH: Sometime I have a problem because some people sometimes look at me and they ask, "Do you live in Wellesley?"

SMITH: Daniela Silva(ph) does, she's a live-in housekeeper in town but she says she gets asked all the time to prove it.

SMITH: That's our prerogative.

SMITH: Jim Olson is the volunteer coordinator of what he calls Wellesley's Take It or Leave It.

SMITH: The in-town people are the ones who pay the taxes, they provide the materials and the in-town people should have first choice of taking the materials.

SMITH: You don't want outsiders taking your stuff.

SMITH: That is correct. They should do it themselves in their own towns.

SMITH: Did you see my bird, Mei-Ling(ph)?

U: I'm not sure what to think about that.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SMITH: Sometimes, back home from the hunt, Mei-Mei Ellerman's family gives her second thoughts.

SMITH: There's dump fever and then there's dump remorse, and the great part is that you just lug it back to the dump.

SMITH: Great return policy.

SMITH: Yes.

SMITH: But every time she returns...

SMITH: I'm bringing back some things.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SMITH: The dump fever returns as well.

SMITH: This is a very nice chair.

SMITH: I can see that once you get in here, you just start seeing stuff you can't resist.

SMITH: Yes.

SMITH: Like, I got my eye on a table there. That would be perfect for my boys' room.

SMITH: Exactly. And it's free so you should take it.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SMITH: I think this is about where I should sign off.

SMITH: Yes.

SMITH: Tovia Smith, NPR News, at the dump in Wellesley.

Do you think I can get that stain off the top, where it's sort of scrubbed out?

SMITH: Yes. I think - I would just use Bon Ami or something like that...

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