Lauren Verow admits that she really didn’t know what she was getting herself into.
A liberal arts student studying for a bachelor’s degree at the University of Maine’s Bangor campus, the 25-year-old Hampden resident started her Bangor Area Barter and Swap page on Facebook to give Bangor residents a chance to save money buying, exchanging or giving away goods.
“I started one after seeing some [similar Facebook pages] in other states and I thought it would be a good thing for up here,” Verow said Friday.
That was two years ago. Today, Verow spends 30 minutes to four hours a day accepting or declining new members, setting page rules and clearing up disputes among the page’s 4,230 members as a volunteer.
Verow’s page is among at least 135 similar Facebook pages that appear to serve Maine communities. A Facebook search using the words “Maine swap sell” on Friday found about 135 pages. Other pages accomplishing the same tasks might use other names.
Many of the pages featured all sorts of goods and were created according to areas or towns they serve. Other pages seek buyers and sellers of specific items, such as DVDs or farm livestock and equipment, in specific areas or statewide.
The pages usually featured closed memberships, meaning that anyone wishing to join had to apply for acceptance. The largest single page appeared to be Kids & Adult Stuff Swap, Sell, or Trade (Maine). That lists 5,187 members.
“I didn’t expect it to explode into so many members. It can be a very stressful thing to manage. It started just as a thing for fun,” Verow said. “[Members] want to exchange goods maybe to have a closer interaction with people so they don’t have to travel so far.”
“The page saves them travel time, time waiting in stores, and sometimes things are barely used and they can get a good bargain for it,” Verow added.
Several page administrators said that their volunteer work is sometimes tricky and often time-consuming, but they do because they enjoy helping others to find bargains. They also like to find good deals for themselves.
“It is very similar to the concept of eBay, but it is local. I do it for the deals and the bargains. Clothing is like half what you would pay in a store,” said Sharlene Lambert Black, who administers a sell or swap page for Lincoln Lakes region residents. “Sometimes you save even more than that. Children’s toys are very reasonably priced. When you have kids, you have to save money whatever way you can. These sites really help with that.”
“Washers and driers sell almost immediately,” Black added. “I put a washer on once for $70 and it sold in five minutes.”
The pages and their customers are largely self-policing. The pages based around towns or areas often rely upon members knowing one another to help keep the business practices legitimate, said Maryann Kimball Burleigh, who manages a Lincoln-area page.
“People join [because] they can actually see what they are buying most of the time,” Burleigh said. “Some meet [buyers or sellers] at a department store. Some meet at their homes. They pay cash or PayPal, whichever the seller wants to do.”
Buyers and sellers should always beware, administrators said. People who are complained about often find themselves very quickly removed from page memberships, and administrators quickly relay news of bad buyers or sellers to other administrators to keep others from being ripped off, Black said.
“I look for spam, where people are trying to sell stuff that they really don’t have [or actually possess] to sell,” Black said. “Some of them do sunglasses, jewelry, a lot try to do pets, but as soon as you ask for the Maine vendor’s license [which state law requires pet-sellers to have], they disappear.”
The pages are especially well-used during the holiday season, said Verow, who enjoys the work.
“It’s just knowing that people can do good locally that makes me feel good,” Verow said. “I have always been a frugal person and have always done pretty well [in buying goods] if I was just patient enough.”
Black said she won’t have to visit a retail store this holiday season thanks to the pages she uses or administers.
“I am done with the holiday rush,” she said happily.