New website, online store thrive in wake of COVID-19

Nestled along 25th Avenue NE, across the street from University Village, lies the colossal Plant Services Building, home to UW Surplus and other UW Facilities units. The Surplus store is a place where, at any given time, one might score a fabulous deal on anything from work from home essentials to concrete bears. 

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Dubs 2 visits Surplus

Dubs II in a pre-COVID visit to UW Surplus.

COVID-19 changed how Surplus operates, as it did everywhere on campus. But with a new website and online store, it’s easier than ever for customers to shop for bargains and then swing by for easy curbside pickups. 

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concrete cub

Items like this cute concrete cub need to find a good home.

So while the days of running into a popular mascot at the weekly public store is on hold, UW Surplus continues to take unwanted items from UW departments and offer them for sale. New items are posted to the online store the first and third Tuesday of each month at 8 a.m. Customers then have a week to pick up their items.  

It’s not just cancelling the popular weekly Public Store events and moving to an online platform and curbside pickup that Surplus staff had to manage.

“Since COVID-19 became a pandemic, [we also] cannot allow drop-in visits,” says Warehouse Program Coordinator Eric Wahl. So Surplus staff set up an online appointments system for UW departments and non-profit and government institutions to visit the store.

But in the past year Wahl says they’ve found creative ways to host an online storefront.

A potpourri of products

And for items like medical equipment, trucks and yes, even boats, UW Surplus continues to hold timed and live auctions. 

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Chevy tahoe sold via uw surplus auctions

This 2011 Chevy Tahoe, a former police SUV, sold for $11, 001.00 on Jan. 31.

Live auctions are now online-only events streamed to the public. A small crew of about four or five conduct the auction from inside an otherwise empty warehouse on live auction Saturdays. Wahl says it’s a unique experience, although he and his co-workers miss having a live audience of bidders. 

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Clifford Barnes

The R/V [research vessel] Clifford Barnes was decommissioned from Oceanography and sold to the highest bidder on

Timed auctions also continue, with Surplus expanding its use of, an online auction clearinghouse that targets institutions and municipalities and is also open to the general public.

Auctions Supervisor Neil MacLeod says that the pandemic gave staff an opportunity to make changes they had already been planning. “We have been looking to move more of our higher-end individual items to timed auctions,” MacLeod says. “This method reaches more of a national audience than our live auctions and generates more dollars for the university.”

This shift also helps free up space, as medical and industrial equipment would literally build up between live auctions, physically filling about a third of the available space in the warehouse.

“We were able to more easily implement these changes because the pandemic largely shut our physical operations down for a few months,” MacLeod says. “During that time we were able to examine our methods and reimagine many aspects of our previously standard operations.”

Moving to online

“We have sold over 6,000 items since the Surplus store went online,” says Store Supervisor Catherine Scheid. “Each one of these items is handled and collected by Surplus staff — quite the feat.”

“We worked with our partners across campus to launch an entirely new selling platform,” Scheid adds. “Behind the scenes we have converted our store space into an online order fulfillment center. It has been gratifying to see the team come together to pull off something completely different from what we were doing before.” 

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desk and supplies

Home office products are some of the store’s most popular items.

 Any days with a good selection of office chairs, desks, or monitors tend to be busy, with customers working and learning from home particularly appreciative.


“Moving all public Surplus store sales online has allowed us to continue serving our community while keeping everyone safe,” she adds. “Thank you for the online store,” one customer posted recently on Facebook. “The reasonably priced office chair is a huge help to this elementary school teacher who has been teaching remotely since fall.”