Facebook flea market Bunz Trading Zone has just one rule: no cash allowed
From vintage bike saddles to pixie haircuts, almost anything can turn up in the Bunz Trading Zone.
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It all started because Emily Bitze needed a can of tomatoes.
The artist and musician planned noodles for dinner, but didn’t have the ingredients for a sauce, or the money to pay for it.
That’s when it dawned on her to invite her friends to form a private Facebook trading group called Bumz Trading Zone.
“I didn’t get what I wanted, but I was offered a can of hearts of palm. It was something,” she recalled on a mid-summer Tuesday, in an interview at a bar on College St.
Her first trade was a bust: She turned down the hearts of palm because she finds them “gross,” she said. But, to her surprise, the group flourished.
Two years later, it has surpassed 12,000 members, and copycat groups have emerged in other Canadian cities.
After some of the members complained that the name “Bumz” was insensitive, Bitze changed it to “Bunz Trading Zone.”
The Montreal version of Bunz, a public group, has more than 700 members, while Peterborough has more than 500 and Edmonton’s has just over 100.
Toronto “bunz,” as members call one another, trade anything and everything. The only rule is no money allowed. TTC tokens and booze are the most common substitute.
Last week, one man posted an ad trying to exchange a Bee Gees booklet for a “solid lead on a reasonably priced place for my cat and I to live.”
Another wanted to swap a sky blue, vintage bike saddle from her grandmother’s tricycle for a sewing lesson, beeswax candles or other knickknacks.
Bitze, 31, says she acquired her most prized possession, a German eight-track player and radio, through the group for a bottle of whisky and another of gin. It’s equipped with a flashing party light and doubles as a bar, she said.
“I use it every day. It’s my favourite thing.”
The administrator of the group, a.k.a. Mother Bunz or Queen Bunz, she mediates between members, kicking out troublemakers.
She also works in a vintage clothing store on Queen St. W. and plays guitar and sings in the band Milk Lines.
In Bunz’s early days, she screened each person who applied to join. The criteria were: Do you live in Toronto? Do we have mutual friends?
She also wanted to know if you looked like a creep.
Now, she gets hundreds of applicants a week, more than she can possibly vet, and simply approves everyone.
Jonathan Hall, an assistant professor of economics at the University of Toronto, says it’s puzzling that the group has become so popular.
Since transit tokens and booze are almost like money, he says he doesn’t quite understand the appeal.
“This is more psychology than economics, but some people dislike markets,” he said. “Sometimes when you just call it something different, people are OK with it.”
He speculated that it may be the social aspect of the group — the fact that many members share friends and can see one another’s profile — that distinguishes it from classifieds sites like Craigslist, which has a free stuff section.
“Whenever I sell something on Craigslist or Kijiji, I always call my brother and say, ‘By the way, someone’s coming by my house; if you don’t hear from me in an hour, I was murdered.’”
People may think Bunz is a little safer and more reliable when they know they are trading with a friend-of-a-friend, he said.
For Bitze, the secret to the group’s popularity is that its members have developed a strong sense of community built around the idea that one person’s old troll doll is another’s treasure.
“It’s not just this corporate blah, blah, blah,” she said. “People have made friends. They’ve gotten jobs. They like to support and help each other.”
Her only worry, she says, is that the group will soon grow so large that it stops working.
Already, it’s become so big that posts are quickly overtaken by others and buried at the bottom of a pile.
It’s inevitable that the group will come to an end one day, she says.
“That special thing will be gone, and maybe some of those people won’t be there anymore, or people will get bored of it,” she said.
“It would be such a bummer. But it started with just a bunch of my friends, so I could just do it again.”
The trick of the trade
It was hard to part with my Darth Vader mug. I got it and a C-3PO cup in my first and only Bunz trade this summer, for four tall cans of cheap German beer. It had decorated my desk for weeks before I reluctantly posted it on Bunz in the name of journalism.
There was no going back.