From pork rinds to pocket knives, surplus centers see it all

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CONCORD, N.H. >> In the market for a crate of Boston and Harvard hoodies and baby onesies? How about a suitcase full of pork rinds? Seek out your nearest state surplus store, where many airports nationwide send their unclaimed and confiscated items.

Airports in Boston, Connecticut, Rhode Island and New Hampshire send everything from box loads of pocket knives and scissors to unclaimed luggage to New Hampshire's state surplus division.

Items at its Concord warehouse earlier this month included a "hoverboard" — the hot holiday present at Christmas — a walker with handbrakes, lacrosse and hockey sticks and an impressive collection of snow globes.

Manager John Supry says buyers line up at the door every Monday to be first inside for the weekly public sale.

"We deal with anything and everything here," said Supry, who relies on Internet research and gut feel to price his odd assortment. "We've been accused of making up prices," he said. "We do! What else are you gonna do?"

The $700,000 the state grosses from surplus sales is barely a fraction of the business done by Alabama's surplus division — beneficiary of the things seized or abandoned at Hartsfield Jackson Atlanta International Airport. The division's says it has $50,000,000 in property at any given time and sells abandoned airport property by the lot.

Transportation Security Administration spokesman Mark Howell said the Atlanta airport — the world's busiest in terms of passenger traffic — averages 1,300-1,500 pounds of surrendered items a month.

Not all the outlandish luggage toted to airports makes to it surplus. Howell said a passenger in Cleveland approached the ticket counter carrying an electric weed trimmer he intended to bring onboard, but ultimately returned it to his car. Another recent eyebrow-raiser, he said, was the passenger traveling from a regional airport to Chicago with a full gas can because he knew his car parked in Chicago was out of fuel.

"I was in Columbus, Ohio, and they told me they had a monkey brain carry-on," Howell said. The passenger had the appropriate paperwork and was allowed to keep his specimen with him.

Michael McCarthy, TSA spokesman for the Northeast, said more than 24,000 items were left at Boston's Logan International Airport in 2015, including 1,700 laptops and 610 cellphones. The TSA will not turn over to surplus any electronic devices with memory storage, McCarthy said. Also not bound for surplus are illegal items including firearms and switchblades and jewelry valued in excess of $500.

Airports generally hold on to seized and abandoned items for a time — typically 30 to 60 days — to allow owners a chance to claim them. Paul Bradbury, director of the Maine International Jetport, said his airport's small enough at 1.8 million passengers a year to be able to reunite most mislaid items with their owners.

Some airports will send items charity — in Vermont, a coat left behind may end up at a thrift shop — in addition to the surplus property operations.

Vermont State Surplus Program specialist Mark Casey said he gets "a lot of butter knives" and cheese picks from Burlington International Airport, but also some pricier items like a Chateau Lagouile handcrafted corkscrew worth $200 that he priced at $50. He got no takers and locked it away after a handcrafted knife was stolen off a table.

Inventory last week included a sculptor's hammer, a variety of tools and a "girly" pink hammer — "nothing too much out of the ordinary," Casey said.

Surplus departments handle more than found property. Michael Connor, the New Hampshire Department of Administrative Services deputy commissioner, said retired state vehicles and farm equipment, plus items state offices no longer need, ends up passing through.

In the past month it auctioned off some new, stainless steel commercial grade kitchen equipment purchased for the National Guard regional training center, after the National Guard said it couldn't reimburse the state. Connor said that left the state holding the bag — and the equipment.

"That's the first time it's ever happened and it better be the last," Connor said. "Everything has a story."


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