update: I am really sad to add an update on the closing of this terrific space. In March of 2011, the Brooklyn Free Store—along with the apartment building next door—were burned down. Arson is strongly suspected. The New York Times has an article about the blaze, and kind souls wishing to can donate to the group’s efforts to rebuild.
Started by a diverse group of anarchists and activists, the Brooklyn Free Store is an alternative to capitalism. In an abandoned Bed-Stuy lot, the group has assembled a cornucopia of cast-offs, including clothes, books, jewelry, furniture, tools, toys, and more, all gifted by the community. The Free Store is never closed, so anyone can take or leave anything, anytime.
The Free Store also hosts events, including movie screenings, music performances, and skillshares, which always feature dumpstered snacks for all. The space got a lot of media attention in the few months it’s been active, including articles in the New York Times, the New York Daily News, The Awl, and the Brooklyn Paper.
Due to the results of recent unkind weather, the Free Store has been taking steps to make the space more permanent. They’ve held several “roof-raising” days, and the new structure looks amazing.
Q&A with Laurel, one of the founding members of the Free Store
brooklyn spaces: What made you guys start this project?
Laurel: I think everyone had different and overlapping motives. The Free Store is about environmental issues because it reduces waste. It’s about mutual aid and building community because everything is free and the store is open to anyone and everyone. It’s about anti-capitalism because there’s no money involved. It’s about anarchism because no one is in charge. This may sound like a contradiction, but it’s also about leadership, because everyone is invited to take on any aspect of the project—we don’t seek a world without leaders, we seek a world full of leaders.
brooklyn spaces: What made you want to get involved?
Laurel: To me the Free Store is a proactive positive solution to some of the things I dislike about our society. It’s a participatory example of one alternative to capitalism, a gift economy. We shy away from terms like “donation” or “barter” or “trade”; a gift economy means giving what you have to give, and taking whatever you want or need. On paper this may seem problematic, because the assumption is that people are greedy and will just take and take, but as we’ve seen over the last few months with this project, that’s not the case at all. There’s never a lack of new items in the space.
brooklyn spaces: What has been the response from the community?
Laurel: Better than we could have imagined! This is an anarchist project, so we didn’t want to be “in charge.” And the neighbors immediately embraced the Free Store as their own. People come and tidy up, take out the trash, decide what should be put where and what should be discarded. I often hear people saying that the neighborhood feels much better now that the free store is here. Even the guy who technically owns the land has been by to say what a great thing we’re doing.
brooklyn spaces: So does the space run itself?
Laurel: For the most part it does. For the day-to-day maintenance, my friends and I don’t have to do much of anything, unless we feel like it. But for larger issues, we do sometimes need to step in. When the “roof” (which was just a tarp) collapsed during the blizzard, it was clear that there was a major problem that was bigger than an individual could or would fix. So we got a group together to come in and build a permanent structure out of wood from pallets that were gifted to us by Home Depot. More than a dozen of us came out in the freezing snow for the “roof raising,” and several more people we didn’t even know came in off the street to help, motivated only by their common belief in the project, which was a really empowering thing. This whole project has been extremely educational and personally fulfilling, watching my philosophies come to life, and it gives me great hope for humanity and the future.
Like this? Read about more activist spaces: No-Space, #OccupyWallStreet art show, Time’s Up, Trinity Project, Trees Not Trash, Books Through Bars, Boswyck Farms, Bushwick City Farms, Film Biz Recycling