Blog Post: One Stop Shopping & Recycling at Vancouver’s Free Store

After a brief Olympic disappearance Kitsilano’s unofficial outdoor thrift store is back in action on the Northwest corner of 4th Ave and Macdonald Street.  Here the frugal shopper can choose from an ever-changing array of goods displayed on a chain-link fence.  Items range from common wardrobe additions such as sweaters and jeans to the slightly more eccentric painted unitards and Hello Kitty sleep masks.  The merchandise is by no means limited to clothing either; tape recorders, plants and even tables and chairs are often splayed out in front of the crowded fence.  But the best thing about this infamous hotspot?  All the items on display are entirely free of charge!

   In a city that was recently named “The Most Expensive City to Live In” this free-for-all seems oddly out of place, but if anything that has only fueled its success.  Over the last few years the eclectic inventory has grown from the occasional meager offering, to a full-fledged household recycling depot.  As a Kitsilano resident, I pass the corner almost daily and have yet to see an item stay on the fence for more than 24 hours.

In our lovely “green” city we recycle our bottles and containers, compost our food scraps and conserve our resources, but very rarely is recycling everything made so accessible.  The Free Store brings the platform for open exchange into the neighbourhood, making it easy for residents to get rid of their “trash” or pick up a “treasure” without increasing their consumption.  The shop operates like an on-going community garage sale (with philanthropic price tags!).  With no apparent limits on what can be found on the fence, the recycling possibilities are endless.  This saves countless items from the landfill and keeps your money where it belongs, in your pocket.

But where does this creative offering come from?  The “proprietor” of this busy corner is a man of mystery in his own right even though he welcomes his customers with a smile and a healthy dose of conversation.  With his long beard, mane of white hair and the good-humoured crinkle of his eyes, he could easily be mistaken for another festive fellow famed for his generosity.  He prefers to remain anonymous however, cheekily spouting as many versions of his own history as there are beaded t-shirts hanging on the fence beside him.  Of his motives and sources behind the spontaneous donations he simply says “this way you don’t get bored waiting for the bus”.   And he’s right, the book he convinced me to take kept me entertained all the way home.

So whether an upcoming summer surf trip has you in the market for a wetsuit, or you're simply redecorating on a student budget, a trip to the Free Store is a great way to get what you need while taking part in a fantastic approach to community recycling.  And who knows, you might even meet Vancouver's very own Saint Nick.