They traveled by VW bus…..and sometimes by the horsepower of an outstretched thumb. They grew out their hair, burned their bras, and jumped on the peace train. Some headed to San Fran or NYC….or other places that promised a difference.
Those beaded and bell-bottomed kids were seekers. They were seeking a better community…..one of inclusion. A community where people were kind and fair and where people took care of each other…..one where love and peace were priorities.
Optimism is a powerful force. These days, most people don’t think that the utopian community is possible. But when an entire movement of idealistic youth truly believe that the world can be a kinder and gentler place, sometimes it is…..even if it is only for a while.
My favorite example of hippie idealism in action is the Free Store. Because when hippies in major cities needed to shop for supplies, they never considered the Woolworth or Sears……those kids went to the Free Stores.
At the Free Store, everything was free. For real.
Now our hippie dreamers didn’t see any holes in the Free Store concept. Because, after all, at a Free Store, people would only take what they needed. And lots of people who had stuff they didn’t need would give it away to the store, of course. And since America is a country of plenty, there should be plenty to go around.
But for the Free Store idea to work, the greedy hearts would need to stop being so greedy. But our hopeful hippie kids had confidence that this change would be easy, what with all the love and harmony going around!
I LOVE the concept of the 1960s Free Store, but my own idealism is tainted by many pragmatic questions. Like what happened if the greedy hearts took too much of the free stuff? And who was paying the rent at the Free Store, anyway? Or the utilities? Or the taxes? Cause the Free Store becomes a lot less attractive when the utility company turns off the heat in the dead of winter and pipes freeze….and the whole place floods….and the once-awesome Free Store develops a mold problem! Yuck!
So maybe the concept of a Free Store is ridiculous…..just the delusion of a group of young people who might have been smoking something funny.
Maybe it could never work……….but maybe it could.
Yesterday, I was preparing for a church luncheon and I just couldn’t find the little porcelain creamer….that little pitcher for serving half and half. Luckily, the Upper Room Thrift Shop in West Deptford came to the rescue with a cool art-deco pitcher that was exactly what I needed. But it wasn’t free……it was marked 50 cents.
FIFTY CENTS! A pack of gum at the Acme costs a dollar! A Pepsi at the Wawa cost a buck and a half! And this awesome little creamer was only 50 cents!
So the Upper Room Thrift isn’t a Free Store……it is an Almost-Free Store!
This led me to do a bit of research. And I was happy to find other thrift shops, like the Upper Room, that are run for the benefit of their communities…..places where essential goods are incredibly inexpensive and where their primary mission is to help people in need. Plus, I even found a few charity shops that really do give all of their stuff away….for free! Honest-to-Goodness Free Stores!
And these shops all seem to operate on the same communal idealism of the Free Stores of the 60s: The Haves give to the Have-Nots……and people who get free or low-priced goodies come back later and donate their own stuff to pay it forward…….and volunteers with free time are willing to give their time and hard work. A community working together!
This sounds a little like the kinder and gentler world that the hippies sought, huh? The Free Store doesn’t sound like a pipe dreams now, does it?
And in case you are still feeling pessimistic, you should know that the Upper Room Thrift is sponsored by a church that pays its utility bill! So no frozen pipes!
Here are a few other examples of a few cool Free Stores or Almost-Free Stores nationwide….hopefully you can find one in your neighborhood!
So do some shopping. Or donate some stuff. Turns out that there IS plenty to go around!
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