RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
These days, many Americans may be wary of buying things they'll use just once or twice, then put in storage. But what to do when you really need a hedge clipper, a bread maker or a camping stove?
Here in Los Angeles, an entrepreneur has set up a social networking site for sharing. From member station KPCC, Alex Cohen reports.
ALEX COHEN: Web developer Jory Felice of Los Angeles recently found a 20-year-old Apple computer at a garage sale - just like the one he had in college. Only problem, it was missing a mouse - which Felice needed to see if the thing worked.
Mr. JORY FELICE (Web Developer): I thought, you know what? I could probably go on to eBay and find one, but I don't want to pay, like, weird computer collector prices for something that I may not decide that I really want.
COHEN: Instead, he visited NeighborGoods.net, a website that takes borrowing something from a neighbor to a whole new level.
Felice logged in and searched for the old-school mouse. Sure enough, a fellow user in nearby Hollywood had just what he was looking for and was willing, via NeighborGoods, to lend it out for free. So Felice drove over to his apartment to pick it up.
Mr. FELICE: And he had a bunch of friends sitting out on the front porch kind of, like, watching him do this weird deal in the driveway in front of his apartment. But it's a great mouse, and it looks beautiful.
COHEN: On NeighborGoods, Felice and other users have created inventories of items they're willing to lend. Google Maps indicate where users near you have everything you might need: from steam cleaners and sewing machines, to tiki torches and tents.
And then, says NeighborGoods founder Micki Krimmel, there's the goofy stuff. One guy is lending out egg-laying chickens.
Ms. MICKI KRIMMEL (Founder, NeighborGoods): His thinking was, maybe someone would like to try it out, see how it goes for a weekend before making a commitment. So he put his chickens up on the website.
(Soundbite of laughter)
COHEN: The site started locally in Los Angeles, but now has users nationwide sharing $1 million worth of goods. Though users can charge deposit or rental fees, Krimmel says most people are happy to lend for free, just to take pleasure in helping a neighbor out. She adds the site promotes sustainability by reducing waste, and it saves people money.
Ms. KRIMMEL: Whenever you add an item to the site, we ask you: How much did you pay for it? And then whenever you lend that out, it tracks how much money you've saved for yourself, and also how much money you've saved your neighbors.
COHEN: When you borrow something, NeighborGoods will send an email congratulating you on saving - for example, $200 on that electric lawnmower. They'll also ask you to contribute 5 percent of that amount back to the site to help keep it running.
So far, it's worked.
Professor ZSOLT KATONA (Haas School of Business, University of California Berkeley): It's a very interesting idea.
COHEN: Zsolt Katona specializes in e-commerce at the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley. He says the site operates on a sound principle that people don't want to buy things they don't have to. But, he adds, users may be reluctant to lend their items to a complete stranger.
Prof. KATONA: Like eBay, a lot of people are very concerned about the sellers at the beginning. But with the rating system, it's kind of a reliable way of telling that the seller is reliable or not.
COHEN: NeighborGoods does have a rating system much like the one on eBay. And even better than eBay, neighbors meet each other face to face to exchange and return goods.
User Jory Felice says meeting online and then in person not only provides confidence in the transaction, it also promotes a sense of community -something almost unheard of in the car culture of Los Angeles.
Mr. FELICE: We all have this notion that neighbors should be able to knock on your next-door neighbor's door for a cup of sugar, right? But I've never done that, and I would feel completely like a freak asking someone for sugar.
To date, Felice has proudly saved fellow Angelinos more than 200 bucks through NeighborGoods. He's also been able to get to know people who live in his community. And that, he says, is priceless.
For NPR News, I'm Alex Cohen, in Los Angeles.
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