“What if everything was free?” “

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Jocelyn Meggait was about to close her shop door behind her when a customer approached the entrance. “Are you open?” the person asked. “I would like to lay this carpet down.

Meggait did not hesitate to take the used carpet. His boutique in Dimond, Free Oakland UP, exists to breathe new life into old donated items, giving them away for free. Meggait’s intention? To play a small role in reducing excess consumption, encourage recycling and limit the number of discarded items that end up in landfills.

None of these concepts are new to Meggait, who explored them for years as an artist before opening the store. In his first art installation, 2011’s Collection at the Kala Art Institute in Berkeley, Meggait offered an alternative vision to our current money-based financial system by building up a stack of ‘stuff’ and inviting visitors to pick up the items until they were finished. nothing remains.

The following year, she took that same concept and turned it into her Masters thesis at Mills College, titled Utopian Projects, hence the “UP” of Free Oakland UP.

At the center of it all is a question, Meggait said: “What if everything is free? ”

With this vision, Meggait opened her storefront in 2014 using her own personal funds and using credit cards. Until the pandemic, customers could browse the interior of the store and “buy” all kinds of donated sundries: paints and brushes for an art project, housewares, vinyl records, black and white photographs and even letters d. love written during World War II. At the time, Meggait was heavily involved in writing grant proposals to support its business model.

“Someone once wanted a whole bunch of different doorknobs for a dresser. Oh, I get it, ”Meggait said of helping one particular customer find what they needed out of all the many items in the store. Teachers looking for school supplies, from paper and pencils to items for art projects, are frequent customers, Meggait said.

People who know the store often stop to drop off items. Others discover Free Oakland UP through word of mouth. Meggait also finds items through friends in the area of ​​selling goods. When a real estate sale ends, Meggait often stops to see what is left to “sell” in her shop.

It is not recommended to deposit loads of items in front of the store door. Instead, Meggait said those interested in donating should email her at [email protected] to confirm whether or not she has the space and is interested in the items.

Clothing, shoes, heavy furniture, and household appliances of all kinds are just a few of the types of items Meggait will not accept. “I asked someone to donate a microwave and I said, ‘Does this work? And she said, ‘Yes.’ After he left I plugged it in and sparks were flying everywhere, ”Meggait said. “So, you know, it’s now hazardous waste that I now have to get rid of on my own. “

Since the start of the pandemic last spring, Meggait has kept the store closed to indoor shoppers, choosing instead to hold an outdoor market every Sunday and a plant sale – a fundraiser to help him cover rent and other business expenses – every second Sunday of the month, in the parking lot in front of the store. On the small commercial square where Free Oakland UP is located, only one company has closed its doors for good: Loard’s Ice Cream.

When the businesses were cleared to reopen earlier this year, Meggait decided to continue with only the outdoor market. Part of this was because he wanted to keep his customers safe and the interior of the store was filled with items donated during the pandemic.

As people work from home, their desire to purge and acquire factories has kept Meggait busy.

“It takes a lot to get everything out and organize everything for the open air market,” she said. “I don’t really organize myself anymore. I just took out the boxes. But, for his clients, rummaging through the boxes is their own treasure hunt.

Meggait has not applied for grants for several years. Besides taking time, she said the process involved a lot of rejection. “I have to explain why this is an art project,” she said. Her move to the Kala Art Institute helped her get grants at the time. “This project helps educate people about social practice as an art form,” she said. “A lot of juries don’t recognize social practice as art, so when a large gallery exhibits artists from social practice, it broadens the definition of art. Rather than just being something you can put on your wall, art can be an experience… and it’s free.

Instead, the factory’s fundraising and monthly donations kept it afloat financially to maintain its storefront. “So far, everything is fine,” she said.

In the store’s early years, Meggait could attract a dozen people looking for plants in the monthly sale. When the pandemic began, that number skyrocketed to hundreds, she said, and it has only recently started to slow down. “The pandemic plant craze is starting to wane now that people are starting to return to the office. “

But for avid plant parents, the monthly fundraiser is always a chance to wander through rows of green foliage of pileas, pothos, spider plants, monsteras, succulents, and air plants of all sizes. . Meggait is absolutely committed to ensuring the safety of its customers, even if the market is outside, so those wishing to purchase plants should add their name on a sign-up sheet. Once their name is called, they can walk around in pairs for shopping.

Recently, Meggait decided to give the outdoor market a more community feel by inviting a pottery vendor to settle in with the Rock Paper Scissors Collective, which sells grilled cheese sandwiches.

The plants she sells come mainly from her own garden and the laborious work of upkeep, maintenance, propagation and repotting. Sometimes she gets plant cuttings (a piece of stem or root from the source plant that grows from the roots and is used for propagation). She also visits people’s homes to help them tend their plants and get cuttings. Like other stores, she also gets it from local nurseries.

The free outdoor market and monthly plant fundraiser kept Meggait working on her vision.

“The point is a utopian society where everything is free. It would be great if our vehicles, our education, our medical care, everything was free, ”Meggait said. “This will not happen in our generation, unfortunately. I’m just doing my part.

The Oakland UP Free Outdoor Market is held every Sunday from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m. at 2809 MacArthur Blvd. The fundraiser for plants takes place every second Sunday of the month from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m.

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