In April, the latest in a series of vandal attacks closed the Hell’s Kitchen Free Store indefinitely — now the volunteer-led initiative is gearing up for a return in September at a new location. 

New HK Free Store Location
The new HK Free Store location on W45th Street, west of 10th Avenue. Photo: Phil O’Brien

The Free Store’s new home is on W45th Street between 10th and 11th Avenues — between the train trestle and United City Ice. The building is owned by the Ryan Chelsea-Clinton Health Center, already home to the Community Cupboard.

“They are welcoming us with open arms,” said Martha Gelnaw, who has volunteered with the Free Store from its inception and has taken the lead with a group of people to get it rebuilt. “They’re so happy to have us.” 

The opening date is slated for September 30 — and a GoFundMe to cover the cost of materials has almost reached its $2,500 target. The money will go towards the shelving, roofing, signage, painting, fittings and delivery. The Ryan Center has requested materials that are both fireproof and secured to the site and volunteer James McLaughlin, an engineer, has found a solution that fulfills the requirements.

“I think we’re going to start out with two shelving units. We would like to have a third one but we’re just waiting on that one right now,” said Martha. 

The Hell’s Kitchen Free Store originally opened on W45th Street just west of 9th Avenue in March 2021, as a shared space for the community where people were free to both take and leave items. 

In April, it was vandalized for the third time since its opening and closed indefinitely — described by City Council Member Erik Bottcher as a “senseless act of vandalism [that] undermines the spirit of giving and compassion that the store represents.” Since then, security has been a major focus of the steering group’s monthly meetings. “We went to the new site and James replaced two lights that had been broken and now they’re working. The lights come on when it gets dark and goes off when there’s light. The Ryan Center and the United City Ice store has cameras,” said Martha. 

“We really need to have the appropriate oversight and have people visiting the Free Store at least two or three times a day,” she added. “We’ve made our commitment to the Ryan Center and the neighboring businesses that we are going to keep it clean, so next month is where we will really make solid that process.” 

HK Free Store
The original HK Free Store opened on W45th Street in 2021. Photo: Phil O’Brien

The group’s next meeting is on Wednesday, September 6 at 6:30 pm at Crossroads Church, 410 W 45th Street. The focus will be on stewardship and forming a plan for volunteers to upkeep the Free Store. The HK Free Store will also have a table at the 44th Street Garage Sale on September 30, offering information and hoping to recruit volunteers. 

“We have new people that have been coming to the meetings and there’s a great, new enthusiasm for this,” said Martha. “I feel like having James, the engineer, build out a plan and give his expertise for the build has given a lot of confidence that this is going to be done and done well. Everybody’s enthusiastic to make this a big success.” 

Follow the project on Instagram at @hkfreestore or find out more at Donations towards the project can be made at the GoFundMe page here…

Join the Conversation


  1. Could I get a tel. number where to contact them please?
    Mary Lucich (born Hell’s Kitchener!)

  2. Please inform Ms. Gelnaw that the lighting she refers to is unacceptable to residents living across the street. At very least, they need to be adjusted so the lamps are facing downward toward the sidewalk instead of facing directly across 45th St and filling residents’ apartments with a hideous, glaring light that makes them look like prison yards. She needs only to take a look after dark to see the problem. Thank you in advance for addressing this issue.

  3. I agree with Steve. Please fix as it’s very annoying and unsafe for residents across the street. Thank you.

  4. The lights they installed are completely unacceptable! I asked them to turn them off (and they have since complied) as they are causing severe light pollution and glare directly into our homes affecting our well being and ruining the tranquility in our homes

  5. I am writing to discuss the recent installation of LED
    lights on 45th. While I understand the importance of improved visibility for the clinic´s back door area, these lights are causing significant light pollution and excessive glare, directly affecting our quality of life within our homes.
    The intense illumination from the LED lights is causing a significant disturbance to the residential buildings across the street. The light pollution disrupts our sleep patterns and impacts our ability to enjoy our homes during the evenings, as they shine directly into our windows. The excessive glare makes it difficult to find tranquility within our living spaces, and this issue has started to take a toll on our
    In light of this situation, I kindly request that you consider making immediate adjustments to the lights to mitigate their impact, such as proper shielding. Alternatively we propose the zero-cost consideration of turning off the lights completely, please. Many of us have lived here over 10 years and have found the
    very nearby light post more than sufficient.
    We believe in the strength of our community and truly appreciate your understanding and consideration in helping us return to a harmonious living environment.

  6. I live on this block. Love the idea, heartbroken to have see the first iteration vandalized! Since I’ll be so close I’d love to volunteer. I love my neighborhood and woukd love the opportunity to help/give back!!!

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