Editor's Note: Grace Brogan is a member of the Collegian staff.
Tucked away at the end of New Fraternity Row, hidden by a thicket of trees from passersby on College Road, Spider Exchange is housed in a brick, ranch-style house atop a small hill, the yard lined with neatly trimmed shrubbery. Were it not for the two-foot high boulder in the front yard painted lime green and bearing the words “Rethink Waste,” the house would appear unremarkable.
Inside, however, the “free store” is undeniably unique. Spider Exchange accepts donations from students, faculty and staff, which are displayed in the store for members of the UR community to choose from. In this way, Spider Exchange functions much like a thrift shop, except that all of the items in the store are free.
Their wares are on display all over the house’s main room, stored on stuffed clothing racks and on bookshelves. Inside of the large display case beneath the mantle, which teems with some of the store’s most unique curios. Some of the store’s offerings are strictly utilitarian, like small bulletin boards and empty plastic bins. Others are delightfully bizarre, like the life-sized bust of Frankenstein’s monster beside the doorway to the store’s second room, clad in a Victorian vest and overcoat, bright purple sunglasses and a pair of zebra ears. In the monster’s hand, he holds a lovingly framed photo of Heavy Weapons Guy from the fifteen-year-old video game Team Fortress 2.
“He’s our mascot,” Rethink Waste manager David Donaldson said, tipping his head toward the statue. Rethink Waste aims to help UR hit its sustainability targets across campus, with Spider Exchange acting as a means toward that goal. The free store itself, however, is managed by senior Becca DelRosso, a fact that Donaldson stressed several times.
“You know, it’s the students,” he said after expounding on the amount of responsibility that students take in running the store, gesturing behind him at the wall where graduating students involved with Spider Exchange leave their handprints in green paint, each captioned with their name and graduation year.
Student passion and autonomy is a foundational elements of both Spider Exchange and Rethink Waste, a fact that shines through in student employees’ statements on their experience with Rethink Waste, Donaldson said.
“The idea that we as a campus community could divert half a ton of waste from the landfill in one semester alone—That’s incredible, you know?” sophomore Paxton Mills, who works with Spider Exchange and oversees communication for Rethink Waste, said. “And we did that! We did that last semester.”
Spider Exchange helps to divert waste on campus by redirecting donated possessions that community members no longer need, which would often end up in a landfill, to others who have a use for them, Donaldson said.
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Clothing is the most common type of donation item that Spider Exchange receives, from leisurewear to business casual and formal outfits, Donaldson said. Last fall, Spider Exchange ran a pop-up shop shortly before Halloween where students could sort through donated garments that Spider Exchange employees thought could serve as part of a Halloween costume.
Mills said that this semester, Spider Exchange and the wider Rethink Waste program plans to hold more pop-ups this year to increase campus engagement with the store. She hopes these events will encourage students to seek out Spider Exchange’s permanent location on New Fraternity Row, which she said was sometimes difficult for first-time shoppers to find due to its remoteness from the rest of campus.
Spider Exchange hopes to seek out more community partners this year in order to promote sustainability on campus as well as in the greater Richmond area. In the past, Rethink Waste partnered with the Virginia chapter of Sierra Club to run an end-of-year yard sale featuring many of the items left in residence hall donation bins at the end of the spring semester, with the profits split between Sierra Club and Rethink Waste.
Donaldson says that this year, Rethink Waste hopes to run a monthly pop-up in cooperation with Eco Inspired, a zero-waste refill shop in Bon Air where customers can bring their own containers like shampoo and conditioner bottles to refill with “plant-based, cruelty-free and sustainably sourced bath, home and body products,” according to their website.
The goal of this pop-up would be to reduce the amount of single-use containers being discarded on campus and provide a convenient, cost-effective opportunity for students to restock their bathrooms without leaving campus.
“When they were on campus last semester, I got this conditioner bar from them,” junior Grace Brogan, an employee at Spider Exchange, said. “I think it’d be cool, now that I have an apartment, to potentially get other things. I think they had reusable paper towels and things like that.”
Spider Exchange is an invaluable resource to students living in campus apartments who may struggle to decorate and stock an entire home for the first time, as opposed to a single-room dorm, Donaldson said.
“Every now and then, we’ll get small kitchen appliances and things like that,” he said. “So at the beginning of the school year, when maybe [students] need to furnish an apartment or they didn’t want to bring their clothes with them, or that kind of thing, you know? We could be an option there, as well.”
Contact features editor Kelsey McCabe at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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