Bolinas Free Box

The Bolinas Free Box is a cultural landmark in the town of Bolinas, California. For more than thirty years, it has been a place where locals have dropped off items they no longer needed or wanted -- clothing, books, appliances, bicycles, and the like -- and other locals have stopped by to browse, in hopes of emerging with a treasure, or at least something useful. Several generations of Bolinas children have been raised with wardrobes coming mostly from the Free Box.
Origins
The original Bolinas Free Box was established almost by accident in 1974. Late one night as they were hurriedly preparing to move out of Bolinas, a young couple dumped a dozen or so large cardboard boxes filled with books, clothes etc. into the unlocked side vestibule of the Bolinas Community Center. When morning came, it was apparent to passers-by that there were some nice things in this soon-messy load of miscellaneous stuff. A local musician named Dharma Badger took it upon himself to organize everything neatly, and make small signs denoting where each kind of item should be placed: trousers, shirts, skirts, shoes, books, and so on. By the end of the first day, several other local citizens had deposited bags and boxes of their own unneeded items, which other locals quickly came and picked through, and thus the Free Box was inaugurated as an essential institution of Bolinas.
Locations
From 1974-1976, the Free Box was located in the Community Center vestibule. When the Bolinas People's Store, or co-op, was formed behind the Community Center in 1976, the Free Box moved to the co-op's shed on the side of the building. By 1985, however, the co-op needed to expand into that space, so the Free Box was moved to another shed, especially built for it, between the co-op and the Community Center, where it has remained up to the present time.
Controversy
From the start, there were occasionally problems with the quality of the "merchandise" that was left in the Free Box. Sometimes people have abandoned trash bags filled with ripped sheets, single shoes, and totally warped record albums. There were urine soaked mattresses, TV sets with the screens kicked in, empty mayonnaise jars and dead light bulbs.
Another problem was that vagrants sometimes took up residence in the Free Box, sitting inside drinking beer all day, and intimidating locals who wished to look through the box.
The most common (and still ongoing) problem, though, is that people sift through the Free Box without any regard for keeping it neat and organized.
When any of these kinds of incidents begin to seem a bit out of control, numerous tirades and opinion pieces are soon published in the town's local newspaper, the Bolinas Hearsay News. The Free Box's door may be padlocked for a week or two by the co-op's workers, and then a group of volunteers will emerge with promises to clean the place up and to monitor it more frequently.



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