Free Store

The Free Store was closed this Fall. 

The space where the Free Store once was has remained empty over the last few months, but there have been rumors of a reopening in the works. What would a reopening of this entail?

“A monitored free store. We certainly talked about what kind of version of this, of the free store, could be acceptable and what they really emphasized was something that could be controlled. Something that could be closed and monitored, not open 24/7,” Department Chair of Art and Art History Kate Lingley said. 

Yet, this has its pros and cons. “One of the reasons it’s a bit disappointing is that it’s the very unregulated nature of the Free Store that made it so useful. You never could tell what was going to be left there, what you were going to find or who was going to come along and think it was the best thing ever,” Lingley said.

According to Lingley, this regulated Free Store will be in a spot that could easily be locked up if necessary. There would be someone to oversee its operations and the materials that make their way through, avoiding hazardous materials.

When asked about her thoughts on the Free Store 2.0, Gaye Chan, founder and co-creator of the original concept stated, “It’s difficult to administer, frankly. 24 hours a day. There’s only so much time to actually do it. Who’s going to do the schedule? Who’s going to oversee communication?”

The Free Store itself was a constituent of “Eating in Public,” a larger project co-founded by Chan. The original purpose of it is actual malama 'aina, instead of symbolic malama 'aina. “One thing that you see in politics today is the idea of ‘the stranger.’ There is a lot of fear nowadays concerning the stranger, but at the Free Store we rely on the kindness of strangers,” Chan said.

Lingley hopes that a new Free Store can be set up next semester, in a place that can be easily monitored and taken care of. For now, the corner of the Art Building where the Free Store once stood will remain vacant.

Safety concerns 

The Free Store closed this past August due to health and safety concerns. According to an email that Lingley sent out to the Art Department faculty, staff and graduate students, it was a site of hazardous material spills that were expensive to clean out. 

The email stated that it was “opening the university and the department to a lot of liability we ourselves didn’t foresee when it was founded."

According to Lingley, active enforcement of environmental regulations, health and safety standards, and storm-water drainage rules made it difficult to manage the store. After discussing the issue with the Health and Safety office, the decision was made to close the store. 

History of the Free Store

Chan co-founded Eating In Public in 2003 to “nudge a little space outside of the state and capitalist systems.” 

“Act without shame, share without condition and trust without apology” was the ideology behind the project. 

EIP has initiated more than 1,000 free and sustainable projects across the country, which included the Free store. 

The term “Free Store” was made in the 1960s by a group named the San Francisco Diggers, a self-proclaimed anarchist guerilla theater group who wanted to challenge the United States capitalist system. 

In a previous Ka Leo interview about the free store, Chan said “They named themselves after the Diggers who fought the Enclosures in the 17th century in the place we now know as England. The Diggers were self-sustaining peoples whose commons, the land that they mutually took care of, and where they gathered food, fuel, medicine and grazed their livestock, were taken from them.”

There are other EIP projects on campus, which include a Free Garden located between the Art Building and Building 37 and a Share Seeds (a station that works similar as the Free Store, but with seeds) in the Art Building’s office.