Ella Fassler: Free Stores Offer an Alternative to the Exploitative Capitalist Economy

Woodbine organizes a food pantry in Ridgewood, New York, on July 8, 2022.

Truthout | October 2, 2022

We all love a good bargain, and are sometimes willing to go to great lengths to secure one. But for a few hours at Woodbine*, an experimental hub in Ridgewood, Queens, New York, thrifting was entirely free and there wasn’t a catch. Perhaps unsurprisingly, a flood of people showed up to the space 30 minutes before its “Free Store” event was supposed to begin.

At a free store, people are encouraged to bring things they no longer need, but are too nice to throw away, and take things they want or need without any questions asked. It’s meant to be an experimental space for building an economy based in solidarity, not sales or barter, and to harness the immense amounts of waste and excess generated in capitalist economies. Pop-up models encourage people to congregate in one space on a particular day, and the momentary disruption of norms generates a buzzy atmosphere that can be conducive for building community.

Putting the free store together was fairly simple. Most of us involved in organizing it met through Woodbine’s soccer teams. We transitioned from running around, scoring goals and high-fiving each other on the field to running around with heaps of donated clothes, toys, home goods and electronics that our neighbors donated. We plastered flyers in English, Spanish, Arabic and Mandarin around the neighborhood and on Woodbine’s social media accounts to spread the word. We borrowed tables and clothing racks from Mil Mundos, a bookstore curated to celebrate Black, Latinx and Indigenous heritage in neighboring Bushwick that frequently hosts clothing swaps and distributions with free items, and brought leftover items to other community-based groups after the free store ended. During the free store, the atmosphere was fairly chaotic and crowded, and it was difficult to stay on top of organizing donations. But, overall, the event didn’t require that much time or labor.

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