Retailer spotlight: Free Geek
Free Geek Twin Cities is a small non-profit in Minneapolis. Based in the Seward neighborhood, Free Geek focuses on tech refurbishing and recycling - they accept donations of e-waste from the local community and surrounding areas, and either recycle it or refurbish it for sale in their thrift store. They are dedicated to reducing the amount of electronic waste that ends up in landfills and increasing Digital Equity by providing technology to the community at affordable prices. Free Geek sees the lack of access to computers, the Internet, or computer know-how as a big factor in economic imbalance and strives to fix this through education and access to affordable technology.
Free Geek Twin Cities was founded in 2009. The open-source concept was created by Free Geek in Portland, Ore., and each one is independent and unaffiliated. Cities across the country have created Free Geeks to help locally with the global problem of electronic waste going to landfills. As the rate of technological change keeps accelerating, more and more outdated technologies are ending up in the garbage. Free Geek endeavors to counter this waste. When materials can’t be reused, Free Geek recycles those materials in a way that is environmentally and socially responsible.
“Free Geek’s main goal is to limit the amount of e-waste that ends up in landfills,” says Dave Cross, Free Geek Build Lab and Volunteer Coordinator. “We give people a nice, free option to be environmentally sustainable … the customer can feel great about every component going to the right place.”
Says Cross: “A lot of people in quarantine are finally cleaning out the basement or that old box of cords. We just want to make sure more people know about us. We accept a lot of electronics donations, with little fee, no fuss, to keep it out of the landfill. We make sure everything is recycled responsibly, and refurbish, repair and put it into the thrift store so people can buy at a discounted price.”
Like many retailers, Free Geek has used the Covid-19 shutdown to update and expand its space to accommodate more shoppers safely and also to “display all the cool stuff we have,” says Cross. He describes Free Geek’s store as part museum, part curio shop, part thrift shop, and part hodgepodge computer store. “When everyone comes here, they say, ‘I can’t believe there’s all this cool stuff here.’ We can be a good place for nerds who know how to fix things who want a cool project to work on.”
In addition to refurbishing computers, Free Geek has been able to refurbish a lot of ‘oddball equipment’ (their words) that’s really appealing to certain people. “No matter what your nerd is, we’ve got something for you,” says Cross.
Free Geek has been online-only for the past year, but they have just reopened their in-person thrift store. Local shoppers will still be able to see up-to-date stock on the website (available for curbside pickup).
Free Geek relies heavily on volunteers, with a focus on “teaching that love [of technology] and teaching people how to see what we see and how to build what we like.” Volunteers gain skills on how to use, build and understand computers and, in the process, earn their way toward a free computer that they can use to find their place in the digital world. Free Geek does not expect to be open for walk-in volunteers again any time soon -- they are not currently adding volunteers onsite, but are taking a waitlist of interested volunteers.
Free Geek’s store COVID-19 policy includes limits on the number of people in the store, requires the wearing of masks, and offers curbside pickup for online orders or for people who want contactless shopping.
A part of Hennepin County’s Choose to Reuse program, Join the Circle encourages residents to buy used goods rather than new – not only to reduce waste and preserve natural resources, but to save money. By joining the circle, residents receive useful tips, as well as exclusive benefits at participating retailers. You can learn more and Join the Circle today at hennepin.us/choose-to-reuse/learn-more
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