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Monday, June 20, 2011

REPORT: TX made $300,000 in 2010 selling property seized at airports.

Where have all the snow globes gone? To the state surplus store


A beaming girl's picture is encased in the snow globe, which is about the size of a grapefruit and rests atop an expensive-looking wooden base proclaiming, "Congratulations, graduate!"
Alas, the graduate never received this gift. It rests amid a sea of San Antonio snow globes — and a few globes from Denver, Chicago and Disney World — on the shelves of the Texas State Surplus Store at 6506 Bolm Road, off U.S. 183.
Because it's filled with liquid, you can't carry a snow globe onto an airplane. But some travelers haven't gotten the message, or maybe it slips their minds during their harried packing for summer vacation. Thus, rows and rows of snow globes sit at the surplus store, which gets its inventory not only from state surplus but also from items that were left behind or confiscated — "We say willfully surrendered," said cashier Roberta Siller — at airport security checkpoints in Austin, San Antonio, Dallas-Fort Worth, Waco, El Paso and other small airports.
In the five years this store has been open, its plane-related inventory has soared because of heightened security, according to director James Barrington. The airport stuff takes up most of one small room at the store. In 2010, the state's general fund was enriched $300,000 by the storefront's sales.
Behind that room, a large warehouse is filled with desks, chairs, file cabinets and other items state agencies want to get rid of. Sales of that merchandise (along with some too big to fit in the warehouse) sent $6.9 million back to state agencies, who kept 25 percent to replace their desks, chairs and such and gave 75 percent to the state's general fund.
In its own small way, the stuff travelers leave behind is helping ease the state's financial woes.
On one recent day, Austin craftsman Eric Billig, who creates designs from concrete, wood, steel and glass, was at the store in search of box cutters.
"I'm a local artisan, and I come here and get cheap tools," he said. "Look at this one. It's really nice. It has its own case. That would be $20 in a store. It's three bucks here."
There are more knives at the store than anything else — everything from little 1-inch pocket knives selling for a dollar to more ornate hunting knives marked at prices up to $150. All things sharp — screwdrivers, scissors, pizza cutters — find their way to this store, which sits in the flight path of the very planes that carry the formerly knife-toting passengers to distant destinations.
"We've had a few people come in who've had their knives taken away, and sometimes we can find them for them," Siller said, adding that the agency looks at eBay to figure out how to price items.
There are boxes of corkscrews with attached knives (without knives, the implements are legal to carry on in the U.S.) and nail clippers with attached files (without files, they're OK, too).
Also illegal, of course, are guns. The surplus store can't sell guns. But it sells gun-shaped items, including toy guns and one large, rhinestone-studded belt buckle shaped like a gun. Another buckle is shaped like a hand grenade. That didn't get by security, either.
The left-behind items include belts, fanny packs, forlorn-looking stuffed animals, jangly jewelry and lots and lots of cellphones (BlackBerrys included — for $5, no less — but no iPhones) and chargers. Watches and sunglasses of every type imaginable. Even a couple of bowling balls. How do you forget your bowling ball?
If you run out to the store to peruse the cheap confiscated — sorry, surrendered — items, make sure you look over the furnishings in the back. You might find a $35 chair to replace the back-breaking one you've been sitting in at work for years.
And if you're in the market for a car, check out the parking lot. For as little as $5,500, you can buy a used state trooper car. Sorry: no badge to go with it.
handers@statesman.com; 912-2590


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