The Digger Free Store
The Diggers invented the idea of the Free Store and it became a counterculture
institution. Anywhere communes thrived there was the inevitable Free Box,
a smaller, less labor intensive version of the Free Store. A section
devoted to the Free Store will be filled with stories of serendipitous finds and
fortuitous gifts. Of potlatches and give-offs.
Some of the best Digger stories revolve around the goings-on at the
Free Store. For example, one of my favorites:
One day two reporters (one from Life Magazine and the other from Time)
showed up about the same time at the Trip Without A Ticket, the third
Digger Free Store. Each reporter
independently asked to interview the Digger leader in charge. The Diggers
took aside each reporter and confided that the person they wanted was
there, but that he would be difficult to interview and would not
acknowledge that he was a Digger leader. They then introduced both
reporters who proceeded to interview each other thinking they were the
elusive Digger leader for their big scoop.
The Free Store was where 'reality came to change its
wardrobe'. Soldiers who had gone A.W.O.L would head to the Free
Store, enter in full military uniform and leave looking like any other
hippie on the street (often carrying new ID as well.) Hippies believed in
the Free Store, and it worked. People whose needs were circumspect could
find all manner of accoutrements that were surplus energy to another
sister or brother. The phrase "What goes around comes around,"
if not coined to explain why free stores work, certainly became a good
metaphysical maxim for the way the universe seemed to operate in the realm
There has been but little written about the Free Store, but Serendipity
at my side, I discovered a wonderful piece originally published in the New
Yorker in 1967 that describes a journey into the Lower East Side of
Manhattan and a thriving Free Store there. Surprise of all, the main
person mentioned is Motorcycle Richie. Having made his way from the Free
Frame of Reference, he served as a Johnny Appleseed of the Digger movement
in his biker jaunts 'cross country.
Here's a link to the article: Free Store
from The New Yorker's Talk of the Town, Oct. 14, 1967.
Jan 3 2018. Added a page detailing the history, vision and philosophy of the
Black People's Free Store that Roy Ballard founded in the spring of 1967.
Jan 4 2018. Added Jeff Berner's column "Astronauts of Inner Space" from 1967
that told of his visit to the Trip Without A Ticket Free Store.