It was a frigid morning in downtown Manhattan. A day made for blankets and good books. But instead of hibernating at home, dozens of people were shivering in front of the Free Store, waiting to walk away with the ultimate bargain. The old adage says that “nothing in life is free”, but at this New York City store, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Everything—and I do mean everything—is F-R-E-E, Free.
Naturally I was skeptical when I walked in, after all, I’m a journalist, paid to be skeptical. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that nothing in this place had a price tag. The store’s “owners,” Athena Robles and Anna Stein, don’t have to worry about turning a profit because the space is actually an art exhibit funded by grants. Instead, they just do their best to manage the frenzied customers.
So how does it work? Customers walk in and an employee politely encourages them to take whatever they need—no more no less. Once they’re finished shopping, they’re given a receipt at the register. And that’s that. ( If only Saks was that simple). Donations are of course welcome. The day I was there customers dropped off a range of goods: Clothes, electronics, Freddy Kruger masks (leftovers from a movie).
One customer brought in a frame and left with a DVD player and portable heater. Another, brought in nothing and left with a teapot and saucer. He planned to return the following week for more utensils. Customers have attempted to pay for items, but that’s not happening at the Free Store. “We’ve had people come in and try to hand us quarters and we’ve had to say no,” said Robles. They’re probably the only people in America saying no to money right now.