Barter shops gain popularity in Latvia

Last week, two new item exchange sites or barter shops were opened in Rīga, where people can leave unnecessary clothes, books and household items and take what others have left, Latvian Radio reported April 25.

The first barter shop - Brīvbode - in Rīga was opened two and a half years ago on Turgeņeva Street near the Central Market. Last week, branches expanded to Āgenskalns and Čiekurkalns.

The shops are open a couple of days a week and one must sign up on the phone in advance. Brīvbode shops are a non-commercial nonprofit organization. Its chief executive, Alise Ziemule-Zariņa, said the stores were opened in collaboration with the Free Riga association.

"The main idea was the exchange of belongings and the extension of the lifespan of resources. What one doesn't need can be used by another. The shop has also turned into a meeting point. There is an exchange of clothing, footwear, books, dishes, plants that are not needed at home. We laugh ourselves that it's a shop without money, no pricing, everything goes on exchange.

"The project is organized voluntarily, but currently the Riga City Council and the Public Integration Fund are also helping a little. We have paid employees, but a lot is done by volunteers. We have moved a step closer to society and people in neighborhoods, regardless of where they come from, in what language they speak and the like," said Ziemule-Zariņa.

Regita Zeiļa, director of the Latvian Social Enterprise Association, said that the shops are a social project but not a social enterprise. If a company wants to operate in the long term, it must find a balance between social purpose and business, charity and profit.

"Brīvbodes are a great example of circular economy and how we can encourage item exchange. But to call it a social enterprise, it lacks a business department. Because social entrepreneurship includes a social goal but on the basis of business, with specific revenue, expense, profit. If we talk about such circular economy, good examples are charity shops which promote item exchange, like Otrā elpa, Tuvu, Hoppen and Visi var in Sigulda."

Zeiļa believes that every company in Latvia should think of the benefits of society.

“I think in the future any company should be like a social enterprise and think more about public benefit, not so much about its personal benefit.(..) I think the direction of the social economy is the future,” Zeiļa said.

There are currently 175 companies in Latvia that have been granted the status of a social enterprise. Not all companies have sorted documents to get the status of a social enterprise, so the real numbers are certainly higher.

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