HARWICH — The success of the Treasure Chest, the town's swap shop that has always been open to residents and nonresidents alike, has become too much for volunteers to handle.
Department of Public Works Director Lincoln Hooper said with the Dennis swap shop shutting down on a permanent basis, people from that town are bringing truckloads of items to the Treasure Chest, overwhelming volunteers and costing the town money.
To counter this, beginning July 1, access to the Treasure Chest will require a sticker available to town residents only.
Hooper and Treasure Chest Committee Chairman Tom Caruso were before selectmen last week seeking to tighten the reigns on the use of the municipal swap shop. Hooper pointed out the town of Yarmouth shut its swap shop down four to five years ago and the Brewster and Chatham swap shops are closed during the winter.
That has made the Harwich facility the place to go for people who want to get rid of usable items or seek out used books, clothing and household items. In some cases the items, such as electronics and furniture, cost money to dispose of in other communities. Caruso said the Treasure Chest is receiving a massive amount of items and it has been wearing volunteers out going through them to determining if they are of use.
David Gilbert, who runs the disposal area facility for the DPW, said Monday that this time of the year, his crew takes about five front-end loader buckets-full of items each Monday from the swap shop area to the transfer station to be discarded. This is costing the town money, Hooper said, pointing out the town has to pay $80 a ton to dispose of wood-based furniture and related items that do not get recycled through the Treasure Chest. It also cost the town in staff time spent removing the items.
“It's been a long time coming,” Hooper said of changes to the Treasure Chest. He said the swap shop opened in 2000 other towns had similar facilities and the thought was this one would serve Harwich residents and not the whole Cape.
“With all these other swap shops closing, the volume has rendered it too much for the volunteers,” Hooper said.
Caruso said he has been studying the stickers on windows of vehicles bringing items to the Treasure Chest. Much of the volume is coming from outside Harwich and recently a lot more from Dennis with the permanent closure of its swap shop, he said.
Caruso said he sees vehicles with New York license plates and stickers from communities on the Outer Cape coming in on Sundays. These are people with second homes heading back after the weekend who know how easy it is to drop off items at the Harwich facility. He estimated that if town closed the facility to nonresidents, there could be a 40 to 50 percent reduction in items.
“With less volume we will be able to police it better,” Caruso said.
“The purpose of the Treasure Chest remains the same: to provide a place where usable items can be diverted from the waste stream and be made available to others in our town. Items can be picked up by Harwich residents for their use or for use by charitable organizations of their choice. No charge is made to drop off acceptable items, nor is any charge made when individuals pick up items,” according to a press release issued by the Treasure Chest Committee.
There are a number of items which the Treasure Chest does not accept, including TVs, computers and air conditioners. But some people who want to leave them anyway. Most people understand when told “we can't take it,” Caruso said. But there is 1 percent who want to argue that the item works and they will have to pay for disposal elsewhere.
Reaction to the news Harwich will be limiting the Treasure Chest operation to residents of the community has been mixed. Caruso said Harwich residents are elated.
“They say thank you, it's about time,” he said.
But Hooper said others who use the Treasure Chest now are not pleased. He cited emails he has received from a couple of Dennis residents as examples. “I heard a rumor that on July 1, the Treasure Chest will be open to Harwich residents only. I hope this is wrong, The similar operation in Dennis has closed and if Harwich limits theirs, so, so many useful items won't be reused but will be thrown into land fills. If you are going to pursue this you should at least open it to Dennis residents/taxpayers. That would make the negative impact a little less,” Ernest R. Vieira stated in an email.
Deborah Randell wrote, “Our Dennis swap-shop has closed due to mismanagement and a select group who chose to take and take and cause disruption. Your Treasure Chest has the same group. I have witnessed them in action many times. I'm sure they will find a way in. I'd like to thank Harwich. It was fun while it lasted and I hope in the future you can let us return.”
Hooper has praised the operation of the Treasure Chest over the past several months, pointing out he has not had a complaint from people all spring. Caruso and the volunteers have changed the culture over the past several months. Last fall one selectman said it should be closed and another recommended only local residents have access.
“We've made a lot of changes and bringing it back to just Harwich won't burn out our volunteers.” Hooper said. “It's a win/win for Harwich.”
Gilbert concurred, saying there is much better effort to police items being brought in. He said TVs, air conditioners and mattresses, items the town would have to pay to discard, are no longer being left.
Caruso said it is amazing what comes in, including new clothes and baby items, many still in wrappers. But not everything is in good condition or usable.
“I like to think the vast majority of the people are well intended, but there is a small segment there for cost avoidance,” Hooper said.
Caruso said the Treasure Chest absolutely provides a good public service. “It allows people to donate good items and it allows people to use them at no cost and it keeps things out of the waste stream. It also helps people to set up their houses.”
Some people take items they plan to sell, and that's OK, he said. There are people on the Cape on the fringe and in need of money who may be able to sell something on Craig's List.
“If they need the money to survive and it takes something out of the waste stream, that's fine,” he said. “We don't question what the planned use is, we can't police that.” Hooper added people cannot take an item and turn around and conduct a transaction, selling something on town property. There is a regulation against that.
Selectmen supported the proposal to establish a sticker system for local residents to access the Treasure Chest beginning July 1. There will be no fee for the sticker this year, but Hooper said when he puts forward his increases for services next April he will likely seek a nominal fee of $2 to $5 to cover the cost of the stickers and administrative time to issue them. The stickers are now available at the community center and town hall.
The Treasure Chest is open on Saturdays and Sundays throughout the year from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.