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At The Merit Shop, You Pay With Creativity Instead Of Money

This San Francisco social experiment bills itself as a “little corner shop of anarchy.” Its creators hope it offers a small dose of relief amid the rancor about the city’s rapidly rising income inequality.

At The Merit Shop, You Pay With Creativity Instead Of Money

Do a handstand, tell a story, or show off any other talent you happen to have, and The Merit Shop will give you something in exchange. Calling itself a “little corner shop of anarchy,” the project started when two Brazilians and a Portuguese-German guy living in San Francisco were thinking about what money meant in that city.

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“There’s a huge disparity in income,” says Daniel Soares, one of the co-founders. “It’s almost as if the city is divided in two–people with money and people without. We never saw so many homeless people anywhere in the world. That was our thought starter, even though it is intended for all the people.”

Soares, along with collaborators Pedro Sampaio and Joao Stein, launched the project by taking to the streets of the city armed with a box of candy, asking what secret skills people were willing to share. “We see this as a social experiment, and want to see how people react,” Soares says. “And how crazy they will go for a simple bar of chocolate. The idea is simple: not everybody has money, but everybody has a talent.”


San Franciscans, perhaps predictably, were open-minded about performing in public: Singing songs, rapping, dancing, reciting their favorite poems and jokes. “It was lovely to see those people on the street go crazy for a little, almost insignificant thing. We reached something which I think is really cool, which is to step into their daily routine and put a smile on their faces,” Soares says.

The Merit Shop is also online; once someone shares a video of themselves doing “something awesome,” they can trade it for anything from an iPod to a can of beans. For now, all of the goods are purchased by the friends who started the project. But they’re hoping to find brands that want to partner with the shop and help provide a bigger selection. They also hope to take the in-person bartering to other cities.

“Our aim is just to create a little corner of happiness in the Internet and in the world where money has no value,” Soares says.

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About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley.

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