Vermont's second-hand economy: What is the value of used items?


May 9, 2021
By Erin Petenko

A boon for growing families

Michael Wood-Lewis, co-founder and CEO of Front Porch Forum, said three of the four most popular categories on the social gathering forum were related to secondhand items: “For Sale,” “Free Item” and “Seeking Item.”

Starting out with Front Porch Forum in 2006, Wood-Lewis was as much a beneficiary of Front Porch Forum’s frequent exchanges as any of its users.

“We had four preschool kids at that moment in our lives, and I’m not sure what led me to think that that was a good time to start a business, but in hindsight there was no revenue for quite a while,” he said.

Front Porch Forum “delivered in spades” for his family, he said, from strollers, toys, bicycles and helmets to “clothes, clothes and more clothes.”

After they had finished using something — say, a stroller — they would repost the item for another family to use.

Even today, kids’ items are the “bread and butter” of Front Porch Forum’s exchanges, since children grow out of their clothes and toys so quickly, he said.

“I think it’s a great option for folks to save money, to reduce their environmental impact and to meet neighbors,” he said. “The next step after that is to buy local. All those things are better than sending your money off to Amazon.”

But to Wood-Lewis, posts on the forum, including posts about secondhand items, are often just “the tip of the iceberg.”

“There’s a lot more that happens offline, and that affects our whole mission to use the internet to stimulate more in-person exchange with neighbors in conversation,” he said.

Another frequently swapped item for kids is bicycles. At the Montpelier Bike Swap on May 1, Onion River Outdoors employee Ryan Leclerc said new kids’ bikes can go for $500 to $600, while a used one at the swap was around $100.

“Oftentimes used kids’ bikes are in pretty good shape because they only get use out of them for a couple of years, so a lot of people are coming to get their kids bikes without having to spend whatever new is going to cost,” he said.

Families shop for used bikes at Onion River Outdoors in Montpelier. Photo by Erin Petenko/VTDigger

They also get devoted bikers looking for professional-quality gear at the upper end of the budget, but still less expensive than buying new, and sometimes vintage bike collectors keeping an eye out for 30-year-old Schwinns.

Used bikes have been even more valuable during the pandemic, Leclerc said, because of supply-chain disruptions, shipping delays and overwhelming demand.

“So the swap helps people to get on bikes that just couldn’t find a bike,” he said.

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