More than a Decade Later, Junk is Still Treasure with Vicki Rovere’s Free Store on Ludlow Street
The so-called Free Store on upper Ludlow Street is an institution. A source for both browsing and trashing junk. On the occasion of its approximate twelfth anniversary, roving proprietor Vicki Rovere shows little sign of slowing.
“Part of my goal in running the free store is to raise people’s consciousness about what gets wasted and to encourage their participation in caring for their planet,” Rovere quips.
An admitted night owl, Rovere is often spotted hauling suitcases of junk/treasure while bar-goers take advantage of local nightlife. You’ve likely seen it. An eclectic collection of finds placed on the sidewalk for the taking (usually between Rivington and Stanton); anything from books, dishes, and dated electronic equipment, to food, used office supplies, spare parts, and clothes.
Due to hyper-gentrification in recent years, construction on the block has been an ongoing issue. As a result of the myriad developments, Rovere pinballs around different locations on the west side of the street.
And now she seeks a little help from the neighborhood at large. Friends established a Gofundme page to help pay for four months of storage costs. Meaning, the time it’ll take to unload the assorted items. “This is not a long term funding request, but an inventory clearing and alternative funding short term measure. So far, $230 of $4,000 has been donated.
The Free Store, sometimes referred to as “the fence” or “the wall,” began in the winter of 2000 after a pair of mittens were spotted in the East Houston median. Interest in whether the outerwear was free sparked Rovere’s collection spree of hats and scarves found on the street (in fact, the items were part of a public art project and not intended for giveaway). Scavenged items were hung on storefront security gates at night, and removed before business began the next day. An accompanying sign urged, “Please take what you need and leave the rest.” When shutters weren’t available, the vacant parking lot to the north (now 180 Ludlow) was often utilized and eventually became a semi-permanent home. By 2005, Rovere began “year-round full service” of her sidewalk thrift store.
Rovere hopes to continue for years to come. “My fantasy is that I could be given a space at the Municipal Parking Garage just a block south on Ludlow Street,” she quipped. “Wouldn’t that be perfect?”