If you’ve ever peered into one of the many boxes of free stuff on the sidewalks in Portland, you might know that they are often gold mines. Anything from iPods to cashmere sweaters can be found in these gloriously free boxes of stuff.
If you’ve ever peered into one of the many boxes of free stuff on the sidewalks in Portland, you might know that they are often gold mines. Anything from iPods to cashmere sweaters can be found in these gloriously free boxes of stuff. But who has time to scout the streets for such goods? Ben Aubin, that’s who. He’ll do it for you and it’s all free.
Aubin owns and operates the Free Store, which has been open for just over a month. The store is an old school bus decorated in painted designs by local artist Heidi Elise Wirz. Inside the bus is a constantly rotating array of items that you might find at a yard sale: clothes, records, cookware and even sewing machines.
Aubin and his team of bike messengers gather free stuff from around the city and give it away at the store. Yes, give it away. As the name implies, everything is free at the Free Store.
“I was inspired by the free culture that was here in Portland,” says Aubin. “I’d also never been to a place that rained as much as Portland does.”
Determined to save free boxes from the wet weather and to bring the joy of free stuff to others, Aubin gathered a team of bike messengers to pick up Portland’s free fare and bring it to the store, which is open five days a week. Additionally, he fulfills wish lists. Anyone can fill out a wish list, in person or on the Free Store’s Web site, listing any items that they need, from disco balls to bike fenders.
In tough economic times, everyone can appreciate a little charity. Yet, the concept of free stuff has been hard for most customers to grasp. They are almost bashful to return to the store, assuming that some sort of barter is necessary.
“For me, it’s about expansion and outreach,” Aubin said. “We need to change our mentality. Everybody is so used to thinking from a place of scarcity…someone has to be coming from a mental place of abundance.”
This Saturday is the store’s grand opening celebration. In addition to loads of free stuff available, there will be booze and live music. Ninkasi and MacTarnahan’s are co-sponsoring the event, along with four kegs of beer, and DJ D.A.N., DJ Deena Bee and a special guest will be providing tunes.
While this is Portland’s first free store, the idea is not new. It originated in San Francisco in the 1960s and the idea has since been alive but scarce. There are free stores in cities such as New York, Baltimore and Des Moines, though the stores are often geared toward a low income or at-need population, rather than for anyone.
Aubin’s Free Store is also unique because it mixes the free culture and bike culture that are central to Portland. Bike messengers who work for tips and deliver wish list items to your doorstep support the business. It also fills Portland’s popular niche of sustainability, reminding you that every free box nabbed is one less box of stuff in a landfill.