The Garage Sale Review: A Special Feature: A Trip to the Federal Surplus Property Program


The Federal Surplus Property Program’s warehouse in Austin is filled with all sorts of surrendered, discarded and unused odds and ends from government agencies — airport contraband included.
The Federal Surplus Property Program’s warehouse in Austin is filled with all sorts of surrendered, discarded and unused odds and ends from government agencies — airport contraband included.

Editor's note: All photos taken by Gillian Rhodes, Daily Texan Staff.

Howdy, my sidekicks of secondhand stuff!

In the name of always keeping the world of garage sale blogging vibrant and new, fluid and flexible, lean and mean, Gillian and I decided to turn the tables this week and focus on something a little different from our normal routine. You can always count on us to keep your palette for yard sale tales satisfied with exotic flavors!

So, a few months ago my mom told me about a mysterious warehouse in Austin where all sorts of Texas airport contraband is hauled off to and sold for reduced rates. Have you ever gone through security at an airport and been forced to surrender your snow globe? (You can’t have more than 3 oz. of liquid on a plane, buddy. Don’t act like you didn’t know.) Or maybe you innocently forgot to check your huge, illegal-in-49-states bear hunting knife. Or perhaps you didn’t realize that you’re not allowed to transport your bizarre rattlesnake in a jar across state lines (see below). How embarrassing for you!

Regardless of the item or the reason people thought it would be OK to bring the item onto an airplane, the fact is, they couldn’t, so they turned it over the airport security officer (the one that’s over yonder checking out the nude body scans) and the officer puts the contraband in a box. But then what happens to it? I always thought the security fellas played poker with the stuff after they got off work. Nope, I was wrong. It goes into the Federal Surplus Property Program.

The Federal Surplus Property Program is a program that receives goods from all parts of the federal government (not only airports, but leftover stuff from other government agencies, too), and then resells those goods in their warehouses. So it’s like the government’s garage sale. A yard sale hosted by The Man! What could be better? Gillian and I had to check it out.

Central District Warehouse (Federal Surplus Property Program Headquarters)
6506 Bolm Road (hours: M-F, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.)

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We walked into the nondescript building and into the little lobby area, which the Surplus Program calls “The Texas Treasure Chest” on the front of their brochure. The hospitable woman who was working the counter told us that Gillian couldn’t take pictures of customers or employees and she made us hand over our driver’s licenses for her to make a copy. This ain’t like any garage sale I’ve ever been to before! I assume our identities went into a database of people who like to look at junk for sale and write about it online. Well, guess what, Uncle Sam? Your plan backfired because that’s one list I’m proud to be on.

The first thing we noticed were the snow-globes for $3 each. There were a lot of them. Probably about 100, and it’s clear that just about all of them came from crappy San Antonio Riverwalk gift shops. It was kind of a letdown, actually. Before I arrived, I had imagined a mountain of snow globes from all over, but this just looked as if the Surplus Property Warehouse had received a few orders of Riverwalk snow globes by mistake. I wonder if the gift shops know that the government is totally undercutting their prices? I smell a salvage scandal.

Also, there were knives. So many knives. There were knives with forks and spoons attached to them, hunting knives, butterfly knives, kitchen knives, small knives and knives tucked away into objects that you wouldn’t think should have knives tucked away into them. And the knives were so cheap ($3 for a big Swiss Army Knife)! If I bought that whole tray I wouldn’t have to worry about finding a Father’s Day gift for my dad ever again!

Cellphones for $5 each! Not only would this be the place to go if you were in need of a cheap cellphone, but it would provide a wonderful opportunity to research the history of cellphone technology. Along with a few newer Blackberries and the like, this cellphone bin was filled with those from a time before camera phones, color screens and fancy cell phone doodads such as calculators and clocks. I’m telling you, this cell phone box smelled like the late ‘90s and what a sweet, guilt-free aroma it was.

The knives and cell phones and such were all well and good, but Gillian and I wanted the juicy stuff. You know, like that illegal, spicy Mexican iguana meat that people try to sneak through customs in their underwear (for future reference, if I say something is “juicy,” that’s the definition I’m using). So we asked the warehouse counter lady if she ever receives any juicy stuff and she pointed us to a case in the corner. The items in the case (nunchucks, an old type writer, some knives adorned with skulls —you know, the usual) weren’t for sale, unfortunately. The lady said the items couldn’t be priced, but that just made them all the jucier. We couldn’t take anything out of the case, but Gillian managed to snap some shots of the curious reptile-in-a-jar from behind the glass. Delicious!

There was a lot of good stuff in the Texas Treasure Chest, but most of it didn’t compare to the pile of Shake Weights that were stashed away under the table. What a shame it would be to lose such a useful device. And yes, that is my ripped bicep.

Beyond The Texas Treasure Chest lies the real warehouse, where the government stores all the office furniture, keyboards, floppy disk drives, etc. people try to sneak onto planes in their carry-on bags. Just kidding. A desk would never fit in a duffel bag!

Actually it was all the furniture, equipment and supplies that aren’t needed by government agencies anymore, sold at a discount. That doesn’t necessarily mean there were any truly amazing deals (this is The Man we’re talking about here), but it was still a pretty impressive collection of stuff and definitely worth checking out if you need some office chairs.

OK, you guys. Have fun out there, and if you ever need a rattlesnake-in-a-jar or about 500 Swiss Army Knives, you know where to go.