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Sustainable neighborhood favorite the Hell’s Kitchen Free Store has reached its first anniversary — and the celebrations planned for next weekend could prove a big draw! On Sunday March 13 from 12-5pm, they are holding an open mic and community art fair at the free store site on W45th Street between 9/10th Avenue.

From 12 to 4pm the community is invited to join in swapping art supplies and working together to give the free store structure a new look, and the celebrations wrap up with poetry, storytelling, movement, healing arts and community sharing beginning at 4pm. 

HK Free Store has become a fixture in the neighborhood. Photo: Phil O’Brien

Neighbors are encouraged to bring their own art supplies and household items to share and swap during the gathering, and anyone interested in volunteering or contributing is welcome to attend a virtual planning meeting tonight (March 7) at 6:30pm. 

The HK Free Store, founded by neighborhood residents Bailey Sperling and Chana Widawski, has flourished since opening last year at the site of shuttered Justin Timberlake-helmed restaurant Southern Hospitality. Sperling and Widawski, who met through the Midtown West Buy Nothing Group, created the store 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 has quickly become a local beacon for environmentally-minded community advocates, including the Manhattan Solid Waste Advisory Board and HK Litter Legion founder Catie Savage. “Best place for household items is the HK Free Store at 45th & 9th by the old Southern Hospitality location,” said Savage. 

Founders Bailey Sperling (left) and Chana Widawski at the HK Free Store. Photo: HK Free Store

In its first year of operation, the HK Free Store expanded its mutual aid mission by collaborating with a series of other local advocacy organizations. The group partners with the NYC Parks Dept, Hell’s Kitchen Commons and the Lower East Side Ecology Center to organize a compost dropoff program at Matthews-Palmer Playground (W45th bw 9/10th Ave) where organic waste is diverted to the East River Park Compost Yard and redistributed into NYC soil. Other volunteer opportunities include assisting the HK Free Store crew in neighborhood street tree care and advocating for the ongoing revitalization of the Matthews-Palmer Playground Mural

If you’re interested in getting involved, follow @hkfreestore on Instagram, fill out a volunteer form, and stop by the first anniversary gathering to “celebrate and share an afternoon of art, connection and good ol’ neighborhood fun!”

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