EASTHAM — The Swap Shop, regulars will tell you, offers much more than the junk within its walls. For one shopper, it’s a chance to find a “hidden treasure.” Another says, “It’s the best store in Eastham.”
So, when the two-room Eastham Swap Shop — or, as a sign on the side of the building reads, the Eastham Stock Exchange — reopened on June 16 on the grounds of the town dump after a 15-month pandemic hiatus, the regulars were there.
“I love it,” said Eileen Miller as she browsed. “I’ve missed it.”
The rules of the Swap Shop are simple: Eastham residents can donate used stuff, as long as it’s in good condition, and can take anything in the shop for free.
The volunteers on day one were braced for a flood of donations, even though the official policy of the Eastham Dept. of Public Works is that the swap shop is not accepting donations until further notice.
Early in the day, it was clear local people considered that decree a suggestion rather than a rule. A man pulled up in front of the shop in a black pickup just after it opened at 10 a.m., four legs of a table sticking up from the vehicle’s bed. “I’ve been waiting to give this to you since March,” he said.
“We’re going to end up with stuff,” explained Linda Weisner, the lead volunteer.
The inside of the shop is an eclectic arrangement of used household items on floor-to-ceiling shelves. The back wall holds a collection of coffee makers, lamps, a vacuum, a cat kennel, wooden crutches, and pool cues. Off to the side, Maroon 5 played softly from a clock radio underneath a rich collection of cassette tapes.
The shop was virtually unchanged from the way it was days before it closed in March 2020 — save for a bottle of hand sanitizer by the door. None of the volunteers had been back until three weeks ago, when they returned to “evict the mice” who had moved in.
“They weren’t paying rent,” said Joe Rossetti, a volunteer who also has his own radio show.
As the shoppers began to wander in, the enthusiasm was palpable. Weisner waited by the door, asking new entrants if they’d had their shots. If they had, they could remove their masks.
One regular, Susan Wasson, was greeted by hugs from beaming volunteers. They know her.
“It was like junk withdrawal,” Wasson said, describing the year-plus that the Swap Shop was closed.
Shoppers may come in search of specific items, but it’s easy to get sidetracked. Crisse MacFadyen was looking for a dog bowl but couldn’t find one. Instead, she walked towards the exit with an armful of mugs.
“You come with a wish list and you get distracted,” MacFadyen said. “Now I need a shopping basket.”
One woman kept an eye on what she had found while scouring the shelves. “That’s my pile,” she said to a man nearby, gesturing to a stack of plates on a small table.
“Someone might take it,” replied the man.
“Then I’ll fight them for it,” she snapped back, seemingly only half joking.
By noon, an hour before the shop closed, the tables in front were full of donations. As a man unloaded several foldable outdoor tables and a handful of crates, volunteers examined each item.
Not everything passes muster here: appliances have to be usable, and all items should be clean, Weisner said. The volunteers are on the lookout for mouse droppings or crumbs — they’ve been problems in the past.
While no money changes hands, the volunteers still act like salespeople. Minutes after the foldable tables were dropped off, Weisner marketed one to a browser.
“This would be great,” Weisner said to the woman. She told her how it folds, how the glass top is easily cleanable. “It would look great on your deck, wouldn’t it?” Five minutes later, the woman walked away with the table. Linda smiled at her fellow volunteers.
The volunteers will also set items aside for certain customers. Jack, a volunteer with a bushy moustache who declined to give his last name, said he keeps an eye out for fishing supplies — poles, reels, tackle boxes — which he donates to the V.A. in Hyannis. He’ll put the odd item aside for a friend, as well. He once saved a panini press, another time a wok.
“Whaddya think? For you?” volunteer Tom Durkin asked this reporter, pointing to a wire shelf. “You can always return it,” he added, with loud laugh.
Durkin, who lives in Eastham year-round, said the pandemic was isolating. With the Swap Shop closed, he lost hours of social time with his fellow volunteers and friends. He’s grateful that it’s up and running.
“It’s good to see people,” he said. Then corrected himself: “It’s good to see old friends again.”