What is a Free Store?
A free store is exactly what it sounds like—everything is free! ‘Customers’ can leave things they don’t want and take anything they do want from the store. Free stores work to reduce consumption and encourage recycling of unwanted goods. They operate within a swapping and exchanging framework rather than the typical capitalist buying and selling one.
History of Free Stores
The first free store was founded in New York City during the 1960s by an alternative group called “The Diggers.” At these free stores, people would host concerts, sell artwork and even give out free food. Free stores allowed people to shop without being bound by the typical economic structure and framework of regular stores. Free stores became a place where goods and services could be exchanged rather than bought or sold.
The idea of a free store was orginally inspired by the “free boxes” commonly seen at communes and built upon anti-capitalist convictions. People were driven to free stores for various reasons, but many visited out of financial needs. Soon, free stores also became a way for people to ease through life transitions. For example, veterans coming back from the Vietnam War would often frequent free stores to get new things as they tried to shed their image of being a soldier.
Current Forms of Free Stores
The Really Really Free Market: These free stores first started spontaneoulsy in Miami and Raleigh, but have quickly spread all across the United States. They are located in various community spaces. These temporary markets often pop up in city parks and this ‘Really Really Free Market’ community is commonly referred to as a “gift economy.” Because these free stores are temporary, people have to make sure that all the unwanted goods are taken after the stores close.
The FreeCycle Network: This non-profit network was started to organize global “gifting” networks. Though this is a global organization, it works to organize local groups for exchanges. The FreeCycle network connects people online with unwanted goods to the people who need and/or want them. Their mission is to reduce the landfill mass of reusable goods. “Changing the world one gift at a time.”
DIY: Start Your Own Free Store!
Interested? Here is how you can start your own free store!
- Start small—launch with a free box
- Organize a one day event where people can bring goods to exchange
- Get interest! Ask around and find people to help out
- Find a space for a permanent store
- Set it up as a fun space where people can hang out—bring in a couch, decorate the space, provide coffee, etc
- Create a set of community goals and standards for the space
- Start collecting goods and spread the word!
Tips for a Successful Free Store
- For temporary events, make sure people take the leftover goods when the event is over or donate them!
- Set community standards and make people abide by them
- Keep the space neat and the clothes clean—this will encourage people to take more things and visit the store more often
- Encourage people to also TAKE things when they come to leave their own things
- Try to reduce the stigma of secondhand goods
- Have fun!