The Free Market opened in September 2017, and we really had no idea how successful it would be and how it would evolve. The owners of the former Briar Patch Metalworks were excited to let us use their building for this new venture, and MANY volunteers lent their time and expertise to weatherize the building, clean, clean, clean, and make it more attractive. When we opened, the attached warehouse was still full of HVAC equipment. We have gradually claimed most of that space for an Outreach section, Medical Lending Library, and holiday storage. The loading dock has become a place for people to leave furniture and building supplies, which can be taken any time (and usually are). The donation box at the door continues to fund most of our expenses; people are glad we are here and happy to drop in some money to help out.
The COVID pandemic crippled our operation, as it did for everyone. We closed three times, re-opening when the case numbers dropped—only to close again when another surge hit the county. Our volunteers are mostly retirees and some have medical issues that make them very careful not to catch the virus. We are still requiring masks; if we get through the winter without another variant, perhaps we can relax that mandate in the spring.
We have developed informal partnerships with people who can use certain things; the Independence UMC uses bud vases to take fresh flowers to nursing home residents; a local potter takes used packing material for her wholesale business; and the Wytheville cat shelter takes shoe boxes and old sheets & towels for their kitties. We stash sturdy boxes in the back for people who are moving and save large pieces of cardboard for sheet mulching at the Permaculture Garden. Our formal partnership with Walmart has brought wonderful items to our shelves that they would otherwise be required to throw away—returned items, damaged packaging, etc. But we still rely on you to bring us the usable items that you no longer need or want.
It has been an amazing journey, and we are eager to see where we are in another five years!