What do the phrases “collaborative consumption” and “gift economy” mean to you? If you’re anything like me, chances are they don’t mean much. That is, until you speak to Sharon Moisieff, innovative thinker and founder of the new Long Beach Free Store, a sort of community gift exchange that allows people to share their resources with their neighbors in the forms of volunteering time and donating and receiving items, such as clothes and small furniture.
At 7 p.m. this Saturday, August 13 the Long Beach Free Store will have its official grand opening, in partnership with the Catalyst Network of Communities, a Long Beach non-profit organization dedicated to connecting people through their shared interests and desire to positively change their communities.
Essentially, the Free Store will be the physical manifestation of the old saying, “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” a place where people can re-purpose possessions they no longer have need for, while finding useful items from their neighbors, all at the low price of zero. Patrons can even donate their time, by volunteering to help staff the store.
This, according to Moisieff, is the beauty and essence of the gift economy and collaborative consumption, which she believes are especially important in times of economic hardship. “Right now money is tight, but all the things we use our money for- the everyday items we use, our skills- they’re still here in abundance.” Moisieff explains, “The lack of money limits us from moving stuff that's already here. The Free Store is a way we can continue to share those items, services, skills, and efforts, even when we don’t have the money to move them around.”
Moisieff first began putting these theories to practice in 2009, through casual clothes swapping parties with friends. The events were popular, and soon grew to include a wide variety of donated items, as well as more and more participants. Moisieff began looking for free places to hold the events, and found Catalyst. Executive director Eric Leocadio liked her idea, and suggested making the swaps a regular monthly event. Named the Seven-Ten Swap, every third Friday of the month Moisieff and others meet at the Catalyst Space for a free community swap and potluck. The success of the Seven-Ten swaps eventually led to the creation of the Free Store, an opportunity to expand the accessibility of the free exchange by providing regular extended hours at a consistent location.
The Free Store won’t be the first of its kind; similar establishments exist in places like Portland, Oregon, New Haven, Connecticut, and Brooklyn, New York. What Moisieff believes makes her new venture unique is its connection with a non-profit organization like the Catalyst Network. “Being tied to Catalyst gives us the potential to work with many other organizations, such as Green Long Beach and Long Beach Time Exchange, which increases the impact we can have on our community,” Moisieff says.
According to its website, the Catalyst Network of Communities is made up “five collaborative communities that include over 40 collaborative partners, eight fiscally sponsored community groups, six community projects and hundreds of connected supporters.” The organization’s mission is to “connect and affect,” by providing the glue through which various groups aimed at community empowerment can connect with each other and promote events. Catalyst recently held its first annual Assembly, where partner organizations collaborated in a mutual space to discuss their impact.
The connection with Long Beach Time Exchange is proving especially useful for the Free Store. The non-profit allows people to donate their time and services to others in exchange for time dollars, which they can then redeem in the future for the time and services or others. For instance, you could donate your time by volunteering at an event like the Free Store grand opening, and exchange the time dollars you earn for a service you need in the future, such as a babysitter or caterer.
Donations guidelines are simple. “Items must be clean, odor free, non perishable, and legal,” Moisieff laughs. Due to limitations in space, visitors wishing to donate anything bigger than they can physically carry are required to contact the store ahead of time to work out space and transportation. For the Saturday grand opening, all customers will be allowed to take two items, regardless of whether they come bearing gifts. Those who do donate will be able to take four items, with the number increasing relative the number of donations.
Although the Catalyst Network provides rent and utility, Moisieff sees a permanent future for the Free Store only if community members are willing. “The store belongs to the community, and it is the community that will decide if this becomes permanent. We would love for it to grow and get donations so that it can have a complete space like a retail store and extended hours for greater accessibility.”
Donations, support, and volunteers are always needed. For more information on how you can help, email Sharon Moisieff at firstname.lastname@example.org, or contact the Catalyst Space at (562) 628-1100.