A really, really free market

The Really Really Free Market in City Heights is no frills, but you can’t beat the price on the merchandise. PHOTO CREDIT: Charlie Neuman / San Diego Union-Tribune

The Really Really Free Market in City Heights is no frills, but you can’t beat the price on the merchandise. PHOTO CREDIT: Charlie Neuman / San Diego Union-Tribune

It’s been said that the best things in life are free, a sentiment the organizers of San Diego’s Really Really Free Market are banking on to build community at a park in City Heights.

Four times a year, organizers invite community members to bring their belongings and offer their services – all for free – at Teralta Park on Orange Avenue above Interstate 15 in the center of the vibrant Mid-City community.

“We like to say we live in a free market, but that’s far from the case,” said Kevin Marks, who helps organize the markets.

Marks said the Really, Really Free Market movement in San Diego is so important because it builds community and encourages neighbors to share resources.

“People today are so engrossed in TV, phones and social media. There’s not as much communication between neighbors,” he said. “We want to try to make efforts to keep communication lines open. We want this to be a social gathering, and for people to get out of their house and into our common areas. Hopefully there’s conversation and relationship building.”

Fernanda Vega of City Heights has been an organizer for 2 1/2 years.

“To build better lives we have to know one another,” Vega said. “We need to sit and talk about the school system, get to know each other, become stronger and share knowledge.”

The Really Really Free Market movement began during anti-globalization protests in 2004, and has spawned markets in New York, Minneapolis, Des Moines and other cities. The underlying concept is based on a gift economy – absolutely nothing is for sale. It’s meant to counteract capitalism and challenge society’s notion of “free trade,” where price is determined by unrestricted competition.

Organizers say City Heights is an ideal spot for the market because it’s centrally located, there’s plenty of foot traffic and it’s home to many refugees, immigrants and lower income families.

“We didn’t want Hillcrest or La Jolla where used things wouldn’t be appreciated,” Marks said.

Vega calls it “very grassroots and organic.”

“Thirty-four languages are spoken in City Heights and it’s the location of the International Rescue Committee office,” Vega said. “There are many mosques and synagogues here and people feel comfortable.”

She adds that lower income communities have a higher need for alternative economic solutions. “Commodities like clothing can be un-commodified by just sharing.”

Katrina Donnell and Madeline Schlegel of Golden Hill heard about the market on Facebook. On a recent Saturday, they trekked to City Heights with belongings to offer to others.

“Our shoes were snatched up, and a tote bag. It feels a lot better than taking stuff to Buffalo Exchange and feeling disappointed with what you’re offered,” Schlegel said. “It’s cool to see how excited people get.”

Marks said the ease of dropping off items may be a draw for participants. “For some people it’s easier to just give it away,” he said. “They’re fed up with Craigslist’s flaky people that say they’re going to come over to check something out but never come.”

Others were pleased with what they found. Rose McClain of North Park discovered a small vacuum for her daughter’s new apartment.

Lidia Marin is originally from City Heights and has been coming to the market for several years. On this day, she found yoga DVDs and clothes, but the best item she has seen taken from the market is a record player.

“The point is to have less malls,” Marin said. “I don’t want to participate in consumer economics or pay for more wars or force kids to make more clothing.”

Market participants are encouraged to offer their skills and services, too. Free haircuts are often offered at the market.

Bikes del Pueblo is a small collective that teaches people bike maintenance skills and seeks to improve transportation self-sufficiency. It offers free services at the market. Bay Park resident Steve Bickel learned how to fix his bike’s brakes from volunteer Olivier Clerc.

“Bike shops can be expensive,” Clerc said. “We help people be more autonomous by being part of the repair.”

The all-volunteer bike repair staff can be found at the weekly City Heights Farmers Market and is currently looking to get its own space in the neighborhood.

The San Diego Really Really Free Market will next be held from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sept. 14 at Teralta Park.

This story was republished with permission from The San Diego Union-Tribune.