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A Black Friday Free Store sets up shop in Islandia

At the back of the Islandia Walmart parking

At the back of the Islandia Walmart parking lot, Open Arms, an activist collective, held its sixth annual Black Friday Free Store, on Nov. 24, 2017. Patti Robinson helps set up Friday's spread. Credit: John Roca

As shoppers bustled about stores in Islandia, there was one Black Friday discount that was hard to beat: everything at one particular store was 100 percent free.

At the back of the Walmart parking lot, Open Arms, an activist collective, held its sixth annual Black Friday Free Store. The event had two purposes: to fight consumerism and provide support for local communities, activists said.

Gently used items were laid out on tables and blankets, but instead of price tags, visitors found they could take anything they wanted, no questions asked.

“I like the idea of community solidarity, especially on a day like today when it’s drilled into everybody to just consume and buy,” said Cynthia Cone, 46, of Smithtown, as she unloaded curtain rods and holiday decorations from her car.

The group holds Free Store pop-up events several times a year in communities around Long Island, though Black Friday is their biggest, said collective member Robert Shainwald, 70, of Ridge.

Friday’s spread included a blender, a dollhouse, lamps, a set of poker chips, stacks of coats and cases of bread. Items not taken at a particular sale get saved for the next one.

From 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., visitors came and went, some arriving just for the sale and others stopping as they drove by on Veterans Memorial Highway and Sycamore Lane.

One couple left with a child’s bike, and another woman left with some small fake holiday topiaries and a bag full of clothes she said were for friends. Another couple picked up a pile of sweaters and pants.

“The cool thing is we all take, too,” said volunteer Lauren Carmichael, 39, of Coram, as she arranged a set of Star Wars coffee mugs. “If I find things for my kids, I can take it. We can break the stigma that we always need new.”

Many of the dozen group members on Friday were part of Occupy Storefront, which several years ago held similar “sales” in a Ronkonkoma storefront with the aid of grant money. With Open Arms, they turned the store into pop-up sales, Shainwald said.

“Why not share? There’s so much stuff out there that we no longer want or need or use,” Shainwald said.

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