I first heard about Treasure City Thrift from my homey Chris, who lives in Austin, TX. He told me about this anarcho-thrift store and by gum my interest was piqued! Wanna know more? I sure as shit did, so I (stinkbot) sent an email that had some questions attached. Cory, a coordinator at Treasure City was kind enough to wrangle two founding members of the collective and answer these questions. Read on brave and interested punk rocker!
What is Treasure City Thrift?
Simon: Friend, neighbor, thrift store, bazaar of the weird, junk/curio shop, reuse and waste stream diversion project, event and meeting space, infoshop, collectively-run business, non-profit, co-op incubator, really really free market sponsor, 25c sales, radical economic engine, mutual aid, solidarity not charity.
Cory: A collectively run radical non-profit thrift store in Austin TX.
Our mission: Treasure City Thrift supports local groups working for grassroots change using a sustainable and democratic economic model.
What does that mean exactly? We’re trying to build solid support systems for the organizations in our community that are working towards systematic, root level change. These groups need funding, space materials, We provide one time grants, ongoing financial support, materials, meeting and event space, free copies, and promotion to groups which have little or no funding, and are aligned with our principles.
How did the idea of starting a thrift store come about, as opposed to an info shop or a cafe?
Simon: We had a dozen co-founders – many of whom are still active in some capacity – so of course there are varying reasons why a thrift store was appealing.
At the core, I think we all wanted to create something that could financially sustain itself and other radical projects, and was simple and inexpensive to start. Of course, it never happened exactly as we envisioned it (except the inexpensive part!), but we kept at it and now we are closer to the original goal.
On a personal level, I like the idea of re-selling goods that already exist at very affordable prices (or free). This makes TCT relevant to a range of people beyond just radicals. Also, I’ve always loved and shopped at thrift stores – as do most of my friends – so creating an anarchist thrift store made a lot of sense economically. Why pay money to organizations or business you disagree with if you can start your own alternative?
James: Treasure City’s goal from the beginning was to be an economic engine for the Austin radical community. Many of us had been involved in projects where we spent more time fundraising than we spent actually doing the work that the project was intended to do. We wanted to start a project that would fund other projects, provide jobs with dignity, and otherwise be part of a larger infrastructure of resistance and liberation.
A thrift store had both political and pragmatic advantages over other types of businesses. Politically, it was a project that would relevant to a wide range of communities. By selling necessary things like clothing and household goods at affordable prices, it could meet the needs of radicals and non-radicals alike, much more than an infoshop. A lot of radical spaces seem to only serve a narrow demographic, and we envisioned a project that would transcend that limit.
Also, a thrift store appealed to our interest in anti-consumerism. It walks a tight line, because in one sense, it is entirely consumerist; a lot of the stuff treasure city sells is completely unnecessary and excessive. But it also runs on waste diversion. Much of what the store sells would have otherwise gone to the landfill―or one of those clothing donation boxes and then on to wreck the local economy in some third world country. Treasure City tries to keep it local.
On the pragmatic side, a thrift store requires far fewer resources to start (what an MBA would refer to as “start-up capital”) than most other types of businesses. There is no comprehensive regulatory framework for thrift stores (yet) the way there is for cafes. We didn’t need a commercial kitchen, health inspection, etc. Also, since the whole premise of the store is that we are selling donated goods, we didn’t need money or credit to pay for our initial inventory; just the good will of the folks in the neighborhood.
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