Snow doesn't deter Ashland swappers

The weekend's severe weather halved attendance at the Ashland Abundance Swap. But cold couldn't put a damper on the enthusiasm that participants have for this free, annual alternative to holiday shopping.

"A friend of mine received a car last year!" exclaimed Saione Penn. "All there was was a set of keys on the table.

"It looks like a great tradition," said the 45-year-old Ashland resident, a first-time swapper.

Jon Myers' family tradition of swapping prevailed over Sunday's icy streets and record low temperatures. He and 14-year-old son Jonny convinced 23-year-old daughter Alyssa to stay home so they could find her gift. A little-used surfboard from a former San Diego resident surpassed the Ashland family's holiday hopes.

"We couldn't believe it," said Myers, adding that Jonny hoped to share his sister's board during family trips to the coast.

Sharing stories is one component of the swap, devised in 2002 by local radio personality Jeff Golden during a Jefferson Public Radio discussion of Black Friday consumerism.

Fifty people answered Golden's call to the inaugural swap, described at The notion quickly caught on, and cities around the Northwest replicated the exercise in generosity, instead of "tackling each other in the malls," said Golden.

Albeit much thinner than last year's crowd of 500, this year's swap at the Historic Ashland Armory was "one of the most amazing," Golden told the group. While weather conditions precipitated the cancellation of numerous community events, the swap's organizers decided to reward those truly "dedicated to abundance."

"It'll be perfect for whoever comes," said Golden.

In order to select perfect holiday gifts, swappers first choose three items in very good condition among their own possessions — without making a new purchase — that someone else would value. Items are displayed on tables around the Armory, and participants are divided into groups for claiming items, ranging from toys and books to cookware and power tools, to clothing and unique art objects.

"I have extra baskets; I have extra Buddhas," said Penn of the items she brought to exchange. "I have plenty of those things."

Culling his collection of woodcut prints to swap for the past few years, 71-year-old Marvin Ratner has taken home audio books, a menagerie of owl figurines and even a dragon kite. He hired a taxi from his Ashland home rather than miss the chance to browse this year's assortment of goods.

Traveling from Ireland to see a friend in Ashland, Brenda Blair said she welcomed the chance to escape the season's commercial connotation.

"I just loved it," said Blair. "I thought it was a super idea."

Once someone carried off a photograph of sunset over Butler Creek taken by her friend, Jack Leishman, Blair homed in on an advent calendar rendered as a quilted Christmas tree. The owner said her kids had outgrown it.

"I'm still a kid," said the 65-year-old, who thought she might give it to her 4-year-old grandson in Dublin. "It's absolutely beautiful."

Reach reporter Sarah Lemon at 541-776-4487 or email

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