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The Hell’s Kitchen Free Store suffered significant damage over the weekend, marking the third time the community trade-in spot has been vandalized since it opened — and the first time the structure has closed indefinitely.
“Our HK Free Store was COMPLETELY obliterated overnight,” wrote volunteer Linda Novenski of the damage to the pick up/dropoff center on W45th Street just west of 9th Avenue. “A few volunteer neighbors came together to repair the previously vandalized rain curtain (this was the 3rd replacement!), and install new ‘found’ shelving and paint it. In the morning Sunday, it was ALL GONE. We are stunned and trying to figure out where we go from here. We have no camera footage to show who might be doing this, and apparently no witnesses. All the trashed material was taken away….so it doesn’t seem to be random violence.” She added that the owners of the building had previously given the group permission to set up shop and the store had the required permission to keep a structure on the block.
The HK Free Store was established in March 2021 outside the long-closed Southern Hospitality restaurant as a place for Hell’s Kitchen neighbors — many already actively involved in the area’s Buy Nothing group — to swap household goods, books and unused toiletries among the community. Founding organizers Bailey Sperling and Chana Widawski told W42ST at the time that they hoped the HK Free store would serve as “a mutual aid project that focuses on landfill diversion and fulfilling needs in our community. It is a shared space for people to leave what they can and take what they need.”
The store served as a complementary hub to the nearby Hell’s Kitchen Community Cupboard, where volunteers work with local restaurants and grocery stores to save good food that would otherwise be thrown out. The community cupboard was also vandalized in April 2022, although the group has since repaired and rebuilt the structure.
“It’s truly disheartening to witness such a malicious act against the Hell’s Kitchen Free Store, a beacon of hope and support for our community,” said City Council Member Erik Bottcher of the incident. “This senseless act of vandalism undermines the spirit of giving and compassion that the store represents. It’s not only an attack on property but an attack on the community’s good will and values. My office is in touch with the NYPD about these incidents and I urge them to investigate this matter thoroughly, and take appropriate measures to safeguard the store’s future.” The vacant building on W45th Street and 9th Avenue is one of hundreds of empty storefronts that have plagued Hell’s Kitchen, with many wondering if building owners would rather let properties sit empty than invest in new businesses.
Photo gallery of the HK Free Store in its prime. Photos: Phil O’Brien
HK Free Store volunteer Linda said that in the wake of the site’s dismantling, volunteers were left wondering about the fate of the beloved organization. “Our Free Store received a certificate of appreciation from our City Council in our second year,” she said. “This recent total dismantling of the Store, the very night of a major repair/re-shelving by our volunteers, was clearly planned, leaving no trash on the street. We are in discussion now as to how to move forward somehow.”
Linda added that she was unsure if the group would relocate the store, but she hoped they would find a new home for it. She added: “The Store was appreciated by so many neighbors and visitors.”
Heartbreaking. A few bad apples can always ruin anything good
I don’t understand some people. I was so sad when I walked by to drop stuff off yesterday. I hope they rebuild. I will help!
This store was such a gem and the people who made it happen are absolutely amazing. I can’t believe someone would trash it but with all the crazy people on the area I’m not surprised.
What a heartbreak. I love the Free Store. I hope it makes its way back, and I’d be glad to help in whatever way I can.
This is really terrible! What a World we live in. Very sad.
I no longer live in the neighborhood but this makes me very sad. Why the hell would anyone destroy this vital addition to the community?
Very “disheartening” indeed. Really fractures the sense of community. Timely, as my wife and I were thinking of bringing a functional standing fan. Instead, we’ll place it on the curb with a sign that it works if anyone wants to take it before trash pick-up. We just put out a box filled with working umbrellas, which got snatched-up quickly.
Walked by the community cupboard the other day. Was nice to see the pantry filled with bread and other items.
What a disappointment. I had such lovely exchanges there with people who wanted what I was dropping off, sometimes even before I set it down. I remember one man’s excitement when he saw my books were in Spanish and another who thought the new sneakers, which turned out to be too big for me, would fit him. I was hoping that this fabulous idea would expand into a bigger inside space.
I regularly bring books there. Although most people in this neighborhood do the right thing, we are nonetheless faced with another sign of incivility and deterioration. CAMERAS are the only solution as neither the cops nor elected representation function in these parts.
Sending a lot of love to the volunteers and organizers who work so hard to keep the vision of the Free Store alive. It can be so disheartening when vandalism happens. Big hugs. Please know how much the community appreciates your hard work, despite the bad apples.
How very sad. Whoever did this is clearly heartless.
I’ve been a volunteer of the HKFS for a while. Its presence has been an element of communication, recycling, fellowship, and hope for improvement in the community. Many people stop by it to talk and share stories and views. The store is a gathering spot of positive and progressive interactions, where items are exchanged and recycled. We will rebuild and restructure.
UN … F&*K … en believeable !! Disgusting! ( sigh ) .
Well, I frequented the Free Book Store and left boxes of books! I luvd the volunteers and the homeless who came for books. One man always laughed at me because I wear orange crocx and we became friends. Another, in a discussion about an author said that he had read all his books in prison! What a great community gathering place! I miss it already!!! Plus I have more books!!!
You’re so funny!
And I mostly do books too at the Free Store!
If you love the HK Free Store, volunteer; follow @hkfreestore on Instagram!
Get involved & save this fun & recycling space!
I loved dropping off things that were still good but that I no longer needed. And sometimes I FOUND something I could use. What I would like to say to the culprits who destroyed THE GOOD WILL that so many people showed, Can NOT be printed here.
Another side benefit of the “joys” of “progressive” governing gifted to NYC’s ” resiDEMts”.
There no way nobody saw it being taken apart and hauled away. Hopefully someone will come forward and the losers who did it will be arrested for vandalism.
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