Give and take

Chico event gives a whole new meaning to free market

Calley Smith checks out the goods at the Chico Really, Really Free Market. The Chico State student said she was happy just to give things away.

Calley Smith checks out the goods at the Chico Really, Really Free Market. The Chico State student said she was happy just to give things away.

Photo By melissa daugherty

Sometimes, people have difficulty with the concept of free.

That’s what Janae Lloyd has learned through the Chico Really, Really Free Market.

Lloyd, a membership services and marketing coordinator for Chico Natural Foods, helps to organize the new monthly event outside of the downtown cooperative. Last Sunday (Jan. 10) was the second time that volunteers transformed the parking lot there into what probably looked to passersby like a rummage sale.

But there’s one big difference: Everything is absolutely, 100 percent free for the taking.

“It’s really about giving for the sake of giving,” she said, as dozens of people milled around the lot at East Eighth and Main streets.

Still, some people who happened upon the scene had a hard time wrapping their heads around that notion. One woman, for example, kept trying to give Lloyd money for the things she picked up.

Many people have heard about the market through word of mouth and social-networking sites, while others just happen upon it. Lloyd often sits at a nearby table, where she answers questions about the event. The idea is pretty simple. Bring things to give (usable stuff, not junk) or take things to use. Either way works, and anyone is allowed to participate.

Of course, there are a couple of rules: no food, nothing illicit, no exchange of money, and no bartering. In other words, free, legal stuff only. Additionally, those who bring items are asked to take home anything that doesn’t get snatched up. (Invariably, some stuff gets left behind. The quality items this time around were donated to the Shalom Free Clinic.)

Lloyd said she was inspired to start the market after attending a really, really free market in San Francisco, which has been home to such an event for many years. The market there is held the last Saturday of the month at Dolores Park (with the exception of the rainy months of December, January and February, when it heads indoors).

In Chico, organizers, including Peter Ratner and Marshall Elliott of KZFR (a co-sponsor of the event with Chico Natural) and Monstros booker Sean Cummins, have scheduled the Really, Really Free Market for the second Sunday of the month, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Treasures at January’s market included a pretty wide range of merchandise, similar to the stock found at local thrift stores: lots of clothes, shoes, kitchen and household items. Sure, there was plenty of funky stuff (like a pair of used tie-dye boxer briefs), but there also was nice stuff, too. Some of the popular sections of display tables held a variety of books and music, including old records, tapes and CDs.

Those browsing the goods included a wide cross-section of Chico, from large minivan-driving families to homeless folks and everything in between.

Lloyd estimated that at least 150 people attended the first market on a sunny December day, far exceeding her expectations. Fewer people showed up for the most recent event, but the turnout was still impressive considering the chilly weather.

Eileen Erdelt, who has spent wintertime in Chico for the past five years, most recently in her family’s veggie bus at the GRUB cooperative, was probably among the most skilled at making use of free things.

She and her husband, Aka Tangeman, and their boys brought an electric fan, clothing and some water filters to give away, and were helping organize the sections. The family spends the rest of the year in Eugene, Ore., which Erdelt said started up its own really, really free market over the summer.

As a man tentatively looked at some clothes, Tangeman seemed to help him out by pointing out a good find.

“This is a perfectly good pair of $50 jeans,” he said, picking them up and revealing a sticker on the outside of the unworn denim pants.

Chico State student Calley Smith was another person who didn’t have any trouble with the concept of the market.

“I love free stuff,” said Smith, who brought a box of trinkets to the event after hearing about it from a friend.

Although she preferred not to bring anything home, Smith couldn’t help checking out the other goods. As she browsed the items, she enjoyed seeing that a woman had picked up some of her things, including an old doll and a hat.

“That makes me feel good, because I wasn’t using it,” she said.