By Annie Kinniburgh
University of Mary Washington Freshman Amanda Heathcock faced a typical college conundrum this fall: how to balance having fun with saving money. Living on a budget forced her to be both thrifty and creative.
This year, the emergence of a swap shop downtown gave Heathcock and many other students that were bored with their wardrobes an alternative to thrift stores and mall store clearance racks.
Inspired by other colleges and online forums, a group of Fredericksburg teenagers launched the Free Store, a floating market containing everything from trench coats to china cups.
Sarah Bachman, one of the primary organizers of the event, says that the concept’s simplicity makes it successful.
“People bring all kinds of items on the day of the Free Store and they take away what they want,” Bachmann said. “It kind of takes care of itself.”
Calvin Roberts suggested bringing the swap shop idea to Fredericksburg. Much to his surprise, after a couple weeks of operation the Free Store brought in a diverse crowd.
“We expected less people, mostly college students,” Roberts said. “But after the first Free Store word got around, we experienced a change in demographics—older people, the homeless—a much wider range of people.”
Roberts credits the reason for this change to a similar motivation among shoppers.
“It drew anyone interested in an alternative to the status quo and traditional consumerism, and that cuts across a variety of different demographics,” he said.
Besides being an economic way to shop, Bachman says the Free Store unites members of the Fredericksburg community.
“The college students usually don’t mix with the residents of downtown,” she said. “The Free Store is a way of bringing them together.”
On Jan. 24, the UMW Ecology Club plans to join the swap shop trend with their own clothing swap. They hope to communicate a more eco-friendly message to the campus.
Laura Pilati, the club’s vice president, wants to give college students an alternative to the typical shopping experience.
“I used to go out and buy clothes without thinking about it,” Pilati said. “We’re a throw-away society—some people have new clothes every week. I’d like to be able to show people that used clothes can be cool too.”
Items not taken from the Free Store are saved for the next swap or given to local thrift stores. The Ecology Club plans to donate their remaining items to the Fredericksburg Salvation Army.
Heathcock has already attended several Free Stores and plans to attend this Thursday’s on-campus clothing swap.
“Everyone has a use for someone else’s so-called junk,” Heathcock said. “I’m a bargain hunter at heart, and it’s always interesting to see what sorts of things get left behind.”