The A List: Trading Post


A ListLaura Silsbee creates a community trading site that sweeps Birmingham.

Written by Lindsey Lowe Osborne • Photography by Beau Gustafson

 

It seemed like such a simple idea. In 2012, Laura Silsbee realized that she had lots of things that she didn’t need anymore and no idea what to do with them. She didn’t want to just donate them; she felt like they were worth a little something. But she didn’t want to deal with the hassle of a garage sale, either. Thus arose her idea: an online trading post so that members of the community could exchange things they didn’t need or want for things they did. So she created Mountain Brook Trading, a Facebook group to which she invited 200 of her friends. “I encouraged them to post their boutique, designer, and cool vintage items that were too nice to give away, but that they no longer needed with a price and then they could sell to each other,” she explains. Her simple idea was revolutionary. In a year and a half, the group had grown from its original 200 members to more than 55,000, with some 500–1,000 posts a day.

Silsbee, who has three young sons, was still managing it for free as a service to the community (in addition to her work as in the real estate industry and at a title company). She moderated the posts, answered questions, and kept general tabs on the whole thing. Eventually, she decided to switch platforms and Mountain Brook Trading found a new home on VarageSale.com, a buy/sell site that allows users to categorize the things they want to sell (and thus search by category for things they need.) “It was great for buyers because they could select which categories would pop up on their feed. So if they only wanted to see furniture and nothing else, then that option was available to them,” she says. “Buyers can also ‘watch’ an item for price decreases, follow a seller and get notifications when their favorite seller posts more items, and basically shop a huge store with endless amount of growing inventory.”  You can access the site by heading to mountainbrooktrading.com and clicking “Enter MBT,” which will direct you to VarageSale, or by heading to facebook.com/mountainbrooktrading.

A few months ago, MBT expanded yet again. This time, Silsbee was approached by Cyd Quick Ruffino of Alabama Forever, a nonprofit that provides support for Alabama schools. The two were interested in finding a way to harness MBT in a way that could benefit Alabama Forever. The result was MBT on Dexter, a brick and mortar store located on Dexter Avenue in Crestline. The store will work with items that are $50 or more in value and will manage the listing (on Facebook and VarageSale) and selling of the item; patrons are welcome to walk in and peruse the storefront as well. After an item has been sold, the seller will receive a check in the mail. MBT on Dexter will work on a 40 percent commission and donate part of the proceeds to Alabama Forever. For more information on the store, you can visit mountainbrooktrading.com or facebook.com/mbtradingondexter.

Silsbee says that she’s excited to partner with Ruffino to make a positive change in Birmingham, but in many ways, she’s been making one all along. “I have been humbled by the members that have thanked me for starting the site and their unique stories. There were a few stories of some people that have lost jobs or had gotten divorces and were having financial issues. They were able to make money by selling things they no longer needed when they really needed the extra money,” she says. “On the flip side, there are so many cool stories about people buying items off Mountain Brook Trading and being able to furnish their new homes or apartments. Moms buying their baby a fabulous Bob jogging stroller. Girls finding that perfect dress for prom. There are just so many fun stories, and people are so appreciative.”

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