The 100 Percent Off Store


Written by Margret Aldrich, an Utne Reader blogger

What’s thriftier than a thrift store? In Baltimore, Portland, San Francisco, and other cities scattered across the United States and Europe, free stores — shops that offer goods at no cost — are a practical protest of consumer culture.

The concept is simple: People bring in good-quality items they no longer want or need (toasters, air mattresses, artwork, clothing); and people who want or need those items take them home, free of charge, explains Victoria Kreha in Green American.

“From a box on a street corner to an open-air market to an actual brick and mortar store, free stores can take many forms,” Kreha writes, but their primary philosophies are consistent. Bonnie Nordvedt, administrator of the Baltimore Free Store says, “The purpose of a free store is for everyone to rethink their shopping habits, spending habits, and general addiction to ‘newer-bigger-better.’”

While free stores are especially helpful to low-income members of the community, Nordvedt explains that they are for everyone, regardless of economic standing:

We have seen a lot of people who think the free items are just for those who can’t otherwise afford them. While that is definitely a part of why we do this, it is not the main reason. We want to bring people together, not continue to segregate them into the “haves” and the “have-nots.” Every single person should be reusing, repurposing, giving, and taking.

Interested in starting up a free store or market in your city? Check out the tips offered by Green American and the Really Really Free Market for finding a location, attracting volunteers, and gathering items to give away.

This post is republished with permission from the Utne Reader.

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Photo from Dave Pinter via flickr creative commons

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Sarah M.
Sarah M.4 years ago

so cool. they need one in every city.

Vivianne Mosca-Clark

There is a 'free items' in a local church here in town. We have around 2600-3000 people that live in the area. It works well for the people living here. I have gotten items I liked and have sent items to it also.

Margaret C.
Margaret C.4 years ago

I think I'll stick to Goodwill, Salvation Army, thrift stores that sponsor animal shelters, just so they can make some money for those who need help.

Good idea though.

Martha Eberle
Martha Eberle4 years ago

I like the philosophy behind this: not to accumulate more "stuff because it's free", but to THINK first, before you bring one more "thing" into your life.

Dawn E.
Dawn E.4 years ago

FREEcycling! Wonderful! :-)

Faith Purdy
Faith Purdy4 years ago

this is such a great idea! i wish there was a free store in my area!

Linda Tonner
Linda Tonner4 years ago

Great idea!

My daughter uses a free bookstore that is in a church basement (or used to, before she started her own selling business) It has thousands of books, because they too, expect you to bring in one for one, and is always full of folk who look like they can't afford to read any other way.

I am on a fixed income, though never strapped for the necessities of life, food, electricity, gas and gasoline, do not spend on what others would think of as normal. Last year, I actually went to a discount store, to buy a couple of up-to-date blouses for a vacation, where I would be seeing a lot of family (free room and board) and didn't want the younger ones (who actually think I'm cool) to see me in the usual classics that I have been wearing for sometimes as much as 20-30 years. Otherwise, I shop at thrift stores, Goodwill, and Salvation army, especially on senior citizens' day, and a lot of yard sales, because I love silk and cashmere, for the feel, but mainly because they are both warmer than other fabrics. I find
Quite a few blouses and sweaters that appear brand new, I believe, because once women see that they can't just be thrown in the washing machine, they don't want them! Since, in elementary school, 65 years ago, my mother made me wash my socks, handkerchief and hair ribbons every night before bed, I have loved hand washing ever since. Three or four weeks ago, I bought a beautiful turtle neck in a garage sale for a $ 1.00, and last week 2, in Goodwi

Lilithe Magdalene

Upscale freebox - I like!

Lindy E.
Belinda E.4 years ago

Where I live, the population density is so low that I have doubts that Free Store could have enough donors and "customers" to make it worth while. My needs and wants are pretty basic, anyhow - very little of what I might want would be given away by someone who had it. But if I had a store close enough that regularly had things of interest to me, sure I'd shop there! Meanwhile, I Freecycle online.

I see Kent M's town had a Free Box. That might work here!

Christine S.

Very clever, and the ultimate in recycling!