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Updated 10:00 AM February 19, 2007




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Spotlight: One man's treasure

Bargain shoppers can find everything from dental examination chairs to desks at U-M Property Disposition, dubbed by some as the "biggest garage sale in Michigan."
(Photo by Scott Galvin, U-M Photo Services)

Almost anything that no longer is of use to departments can be found in the 15,000 square-foot warehouse on North Campus.

Steve Sinelli, warehouse supervisor, has been working at Property Disposition since 1978. He arrived there after seven years of working in various other positions at the University.

"Shortly after working here, my manager started calling me Sticky because it seemed I had found a department at the University I would stick with," Sinelli says. "Turns out he was right."

Sinelli says he has fun with his job, and enjoys "listening to the customers and hearing stories about what they've done with their past purchases." He cites stretcher pads as an example. "A few that we've sold have been turned into boat seat cushions for snowbirds in Florida."

All departments give their surplus equipment and furniture to Property Disposition to sell, which returns 92 percent of the proceeds to the University. First priority is given to University staff members, who have their own hours, separate from the public, to shop for their departments. More than five truckloads of equipment from various departments enter the warehouse every day, so Sinelli has his work cut out for him.

"We have the challenge of moving equipment quickly to make room for new arrivals. This also means we have to constantly recruit new customers."

This task seems to be going well, as people all over Michigan and even Ohio constitute two thirds of sales. Most of the items in the warehouse consist of computers, copiers, office and dormitory furniture, laboratory and hospital equipment, artwork and kitchen supplies.

"Desks, chairs and file cabinets are always good deals," he says. "Ours are significantly less than buying new. Starting in May, housing will begin their annual replacement of dorm furniture. We typically receive desks, dressers, mattresses, bunk beds and chairs during this time. This becomes a valuable asset for students that don't live in the dorms."

When larger items are acquired, such as machine shop and lawn and garden equipment, they often are auctioned off in a sealed bid system. "Sealed bids sometimes take on a life of their own," Sinelli says. "Depending on the bidders, you can buy anything from a lawn mower to a lathe at a fantastic price."

Sometimes Property Disposition holds on-site sales, such as the one in September in the Frieze Building that emptied all its remaining classroom and office furniture in order to prepare it for demolition.

Sinelli has seen some unusual items go through Property Disposition. "In the past we have sold an antique gun collection, a coin collection and even a helicopter launch pad. That was a long time ago."

After almost 30 years in Property Disposition, Sinelli still enjoys the level of variety involved in his work. "Every day is a new day with different challenges. I meet people from every walk of life, and I like the fact that no two days are alike."

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