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Originally published October 16, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified October 16, 2007 at 1:08 PM

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Boeing Surplus Store to close

Sometimes it's 150, sometimes double and triple that number, who line up in the mornings before the doors open at the Boeing Surplus Store...

Seattle Times staff reporter

Sometimes it's 150, sometimes double and triple that number, who line up in the mornings before the doors open at the Boeing Surplus Store in Kent.

Melancholy hangs in the air.

Guys more comfortable talking about torque meters and pneumatic drills get emotional.

They're counting down the days until Dec. 21, the last day of business for their bit of heaven that encompasses 50,000 square feet of warehouse space, and thousands upon thousands of items.

Boeing has announced that the surplus store, a local landmark for 35 years, is closing and going to the Internet.

Oh, how the guys — and it's mostly men who come here — will miss it. Many know each other by face, and sometimes first name.

It's not just the camaraderie that the regulars will miss.

They fear that online, the items will be sold in bulk to bigger buyers. And no longer will they be able to walk around and find something by serendipity — because they couldn't pass up buying that block of Styrofoam or 200 pounds of steel ball bearings.

It's a special club to which they belong, where joy is finding that mercury vapor analyzer that's practically a steal at $70.

The deals they could find:

• Heavy metal desks that scream out "1970s office" at $20 each. They're so sturdy that some guys buy them as platforms on which to rebuild car engines.

• Desktop computers with respectable 1 GHz microprocessors at $25 each. They're so popular that a sign at the entrance warns, "3 CPU's per person. NO EXCEPTIONS!"

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• A 1 ½-by-6-foot blue metal "ultrasonic" switching cabinet, with some 60 switches, and "WARNING HIGH VOLTAGE" stenciled on the back, that, if not actually used in something scientific, could serve as a piece of conceptual art at a trendy Soho loft. Price: $75.

Scott Bacher, 50, of Everett, was among those standing at the front of the line early on a recent weekday, and talked about what happens a couple of minutes before the doors open at 11.

A good number of other regulars wait out in their cars in the sometimes cold and rainy weather. "It reminds me of 'Field of Dreams,' you know, the part in the movie where the baseball players are walking out of the corn field," he said, about the parking lot suddenly filling with surplus devotees.

Bacher works as a self-employed airplane mechanic. He comes here because he can buy an air-powered tool for $25 that'd sell new for $900.

"Boeing is so big that what they throw away is a delight for somebody like me," Bacher said.

Many of the others waiting in line were resellers.

There was Ed Williams, 55, of Federal Way. On this morning, he was peering through the window at the equipment on Table 4, which had something called densitometers for sale. Maybe he could pick them up for $35 each and resell them on his Web site for $75 to $200 apiece.

"This is the only place left where you can go running in the door, and grab something for $35 and get a deal," he said.

There are 16 people working at the surplus store; some will stay with the surplus operation, and some work elsewhere at Boeing.

One of those staying is Jim Oliver, assistant manager.

He told about selling for $35 a machine that threw potatoes. It had been used by Boeing to test the impact of birds flying into an engine, he said.

He told of a Boeing retiree who "found a chair that had his name written on the back. It was his old chair," Oliver said.

The news still is getting out about the store's closure.

Bruce Lane, 47, a former Boeing computer-support technician, on Oct. 7 started a Web site called www.saveboeingsurplus.com. Without much publicity, he said, the site has gotten more than 2,000 hits.

Lane also has various Web projects, which, he said, "would not exist if it were not for the equipment I bought at Boeing Surplus."

Nikki Larson, an assistant professor in engineering technology at Western Washington University, just found out the surplus store is closing.

She advises a group of students who for the past three years have used surplus material donated by Boeing to build a human-powered submarine that's entered in a national mechanical-engineering contest.

Last year, the students won first for speed and second for engineering, and Larson mailed the store a photo of the submarine. It's posted on a bulletin board called "What have you made?'

Other photos of stuff made with Boeing surplus parts include a five-drawer metal file cabinet that was turned into a chicken smoker; a bicycle geared so it can be ridden on railroad tracks; and a toy robot whose major component seems to be a vacuum cleaner.

"I'm going to have to cry," said Larson at the news of the closure. "Oh, my goodness."

Erik Lacitis: 206-464-2237 or elacitis@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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