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Portland’s first Free Store works its magic by bike

Posted by on October 2nd, 2009 at 10:51 am

portland free store

The Portland Free Store
at SE 11th & Clay
(Photos © Elly Blue)

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.

Story continues below


portland free store

Free Store owner Ben Aubin
sorting through a recent wave
of donations.

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.

portland free store

Free Store courier Shonn

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.

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  • Steve October 2, 2009 at 12:36 pm

    How can you have five quadrants?

    “(he hopes to find donated spaces in all five quadrants)”

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  • Meghan October 2, 2009 at 12:45 pm

    Portland has five “quadrants” even though technically that’s not possible.
    and, North.
    Keep Portland Weird, indeed.

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  • Ali October 2, 2009 at 12:47 pm

    NE, SE, SW, NW and N

    If it weren’t for the Willamette NW and N would be thrown in together. But the river is a pretty effective barrier.

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  • @EarthCourier October 2, 2009 at 2:37 pm

    Sign up for a ‘wishlist’ and get what your heart desires, for FREE! http://freestoreportland.org/ – wishlist tab…FREE delivery! Cuz that’s how we roll!

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  • hh October 2, 2009 at 2:44 pm

    everything is free… except ad space.

    i think it’s important to stress the fact that the portland free store is only drawing inspiration from the RRFM movement. one stark difference remains.


    RRFM takes a direct stance against capitalism. tips would never be accepted, no “salesmen” would be hired, no ad space would be sold… and ads would certainly not be forced upon anyone.

    but if you’re into that sort of thing, shoot ’em an email:


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  • mac October 2, 2009 at 3:22 pm

    cool can I get a laptop to resell to fund my crank habit?

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  • Paul Tay October 2, 2009 at 3:50 pm

    Sweet inspiration for my crunked out van with da busted crankshaft!

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  • Tom Daly October 2, 2009 at 7:13 pm

    Dude, stfu. I know who you are. I’m really tired of you mewling and moaning. No one at the portland free store is claiming to be an anarchist, or against money, so why are you breaking balls? Shouldn’t you be happy that awareness of this concept is spreading? Or are you just pissed because you know you’ve been trying to do this for YEARS and Ben showed up and did it in a MONTH.

    What about fundraising? Isn’t that money? Again, i know who you are.

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  • Local Gal October 2, 2009 at 8:35 pm

    Wow. Portland should have had a free store years ago. It only seems natural for a progressive, “eco-friendly,” city. PDX will be greatly enriched by the concept.

    Kudos to you, Mr. Aubin!

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  • are October 2, 2009 at 11:27 pm

    yike, comment 8. you may have an axe to grind with the source, but the content was factual. hell, he even told people where to go to apply for a job. there are fundamental differences between this local project and the broader “really really free market” movement, which is — to use your word — anarchist in its nature. if this fellow Aubin wants to make the comparison, he ought to be open to people, um, making the comparison.

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  • meowmeow October 3, 2009 at 12:08 am

    portland has had a store based freecycle for a while, its called Black Rose Infoshop, located on Mississippi and Shaver. which is an entire volunteer run freecycle, library, community space, and bookstore collective(they sell books, zines and music to pay their utilities and rent). if you have a problem with the psuedocapitalist nature of the pdx freestore, support black rose instead.

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  • Tom Daly October 3, 2009 at 10:57 pm

    Support the Black Rose with money. Beacuse they sell things. How is that any different, yo?

    Portland Free Store gives away every item that passes through it’s door for free. Advertising is only advertising in a loose sense of the word. Think of it as partnerships with people who respect it’s ideal and wish to see the idea propogate. I pay for ad space with the free store, mostly because i like the idea of a free store and would donate even without recompense.

    The Black Rose Infoshop is an awesome store with a free area, and the portland free store gives away all of it’s goods for free. Citybikes has a free bin outside but it’s not a free bike shop.

    Open question: Why are there so many haters on the free store? This a good idea which could spread the awareness of a WHOLLY free entity outside internet postings.

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  • are October 3, 2009 at 11:35 pm

    hey, I actually do not disagree with the idea that someone could take a step in the right direction without getting all the way there the first or second time out. but you have to keep the goal in mind, and one way to keep the goal in mind is to repeatedly mention it. I am not personally acquainted with either you or the person you are calling out. I am simply saying his agenda is not on display in the message you decry more than a small amount. so you are importing a discussion that happened offlist that many of us have not participated in. just sayin.

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  • Q. Allen October 4, 2009 at 12:49 pm

    Ben…I’m really proud of you. I remember back when we lived in Raleigh this is all we wanted to do, and you came to Portland and set it up in a month!! That’s super rad. Congradulations and i wish you tons iof success!

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  • organic brian October 4, 2009 at 11:00 pm

    People’s Co-op used to have a big wooden cabinet for free stuff. It was discontinued because of disregard for the big sign asking that things not be left which cannot fit in the cabinet. The store personnel spent too much time taking excess stuff away.

    Without some kind of staff, free stores really won’t work until humanity evolves a good bit more. I think Ben’s free store is very well executed and I’m excited to go check it out.

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  • Rebecca October 8, 2009 at 10:51 am

    This is a really cool idea. I use a website that’s just like this, only isn’t only for Portland.

    Kashless.org is all free listings. And if you sign up you also get ReycycleBank points for the things you donate (and other stuff you can do on the site) so that you can redeem your points for prizes.

    Check it out at: http://www.kashless.org

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  • […] Every step forward is a victory. We’ve caught the attention of two local media sources: BikePortland, and a live interview on Channel 8, KGW–both of which are available in our Press section. The […]

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  • Blue Falcon October 15, 2009 at 11:43 am

    So what is to keep people from taking ‘free stuff’ that has been donated and turning around to sell it on EBay?

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  • Chris_ALLIance October 20, 2009 at 6:50 pm

    It seems problematic that some people are posting solely to oppose Mr. Aubin’s business model solely because he is trying to support himself and the business. So Mr. Aubin is some sort of greedy money hungry capitalist because he is trying to deliver free items to people while businesses pay for advertisement?

    We are supposed to believe that he is no different from Wal Mart, right?

    Of course the anti-capitalist choice is to BUY things from the local infoshop. Isn’t that, by your logic, capitalist? Where am I supposed to get money to buy things from my local infoshop?

    What the hell is the point of bashing the free store when there are strip malls going up and chain stores driving down the wages of the working poor? Why try to destroy a project that is creating jobs in a relatively alternate economy?

    This is why anarchists are laughed at. These purity tests aren’t going to accomplish anything. Playing gotcha games might be cool for cred points, but it sure as hell isn’t going to stop oppression.

    This anarchist applauds Mr. Aubin for doing something constructive and visible.

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