Posted by Elly Blue (Columnist) on October 2nd, 2009 at 10:51 am
There’s yet another new bike-based business in town — the difference is that at this store, everything is free.
The Portland Free Store is, according to its website, “basically a second-hand store, except that everything is free.” People can drop off donations at the recommissioned school bus that houses the store at SE 11th and Clay during its open hours — currently 11am – 7pm, Monday to Friday — or a bike messenger will come and do a pick up.
Customers can make a visit to the bus, or fill out an online wish-list and have items delivered by bike as they come in.
Last week I caught up with owner Ben Aubin as he was sorting through the leftovers of the well-attended Free Box Bazaar he had thrown the day before. Aubin has a ton of energy and is working full time to make a dozen things happen at once, from fundraisers to opening satellite locations (he hopes to find donated spaces in all five quadrants) to finding local artists to redesign the outside of the bus each month.
“Yesterday we gave away a bicycle,” Aubin told me. A week ago, a woman walked away with a laptop and a new purse. “Right now we have a lot of shoes, if you need those.”
The store is accepts donations of “consignment quality” goods, and can’t handle anything too bulky yet, though hopefully with new warehouse space across town they’ll be able to start taking furniture and other large items.
Though all items are free, Aubin is working to make the store economically sustainable. He has been able to raise enough money to hire a salesperson. A handful of couriers work for tips; Aubin wants to be able to start paying them, partly by selling ad space on a flyer they leave with every pick up and drop off, and partly by seeking sponsors to pledge a small sum per month to help keep a favorite courier in business.
All donations are entered into a database and matched against customer wishlists. Another program finds free items posted to Craigslist and Freecycle, and Aubin dispatches couriers to pick them up. The goal, he says, is eventually to dispense with the school bus storefront altogether and work entirely peer to peer.
The Portland Free Store is one of four currently operating in the United States not run by a religious organization. Aubin says the shop draws inspiration from the Really Really Free Market movement.
Elly Blue has been writing about bicycling and carfree issues for BikePortland.org since 2006. Find her at http://takingthelane.com