July 29, 2010 | by Steve Kilar
Meet the queen of free D.C.

There are more than a dozen yoga studios throughout the metro area that offer free, low-cost or pay-what-you-can classes. More than five locations that project free movies outdoors throughout the summer. And at least three days per week, every week, professional musicians and actors at venues across the city play for free for those lucky enough to know where.

How to find out where, exactly?

Follow Amy B. Melrose, the founder and sole blogger of the site “Free in D.C.,” on Twitter.

Or become her fan on Facebook.

Or find her highly trafficked, searchable site with Google.

Melrose provides many options to find the event information she aggregates. For free, of course.

The energetic, quick-tongued Melrose spends more than 20 hours per week sifting through online invitations, e-mails and paper fliers looking for events that fulfill her criteria: the event is in the D.C.-metro region, costs less than $10 and is accessible by public transportation.

And to make the cut an event must be “funky,” a loose term that encompasses think-tank lectures, art exhibits and “Kostume Karaoke.”

“Somebody cared enough to offer the event. Somebody cared enough to create a sign or invitation for it. And I care enough to post it so people know about it,” Melrose said in an interview. Melrose is in her mid-30s and works part-time as a freelance new media marketing consultant.

Melrose’s self-described blog “baby” was born in October 2007, while Melrose was between jobs, after a few glasses of wine during a birthday party.

“‘You always know all of the cool stuff going on. You should just start a blog,’” Melrose said her friends told her that night.

Over the prior five years she had fleetingly thought about creating a website that listed inexpensive events in the District, but a lack of time and computer skills inhibited her from actually starting.

That night, after the revelry ended, a friend created a blogger template for Melrose.

“It was the kick in the butt I needed to get things going,” said Melrose. Melrose still uses the original template her friend created for the site, which averages about 800 unique visitors per weekday.

When Melrose started the site, most of the events she posted came to her by bills posted in coffee shops, bulletin boards outside restaurant bathrooms, hyper-local newspapers and word-of-mouth.

Today about half of the events she posts come to her as Facebook invitations. On Saturday, she had 58 invites sitting in her inbox, waiting to be reviewed for posting.

Melrose, a native of Philadelphia, moved to the District in 1993 as a transfer student to George Washington University, where she majored in psychology and worked at the university’s Lisner Auditorium.

She did not plan to stay in Washington after graduation, but the city’s accessible culture had her hooked.

“You don’t have to be 21, have a car, or have a lot of money” to take advantage of D.C.’s culture and recreation, Melrose said.

Melrose compiles her blog with newcomers and tourists in mind.

“I write it with the idea that the stork just dropped [readers] in D.C. and there’s everything on my site they need [to find entertainment]: location, price and directions,” Melrose said.

In addition to her blog, Twitter feed and Facebook updates, Melrose posts twice weekly on ReadysetDC and occasionally on Borderstan. Melrose has also entered into an agreement with WashingtonCityPaper.com for a weekly feature column.

Melrose sees her passion for collecting and distilling inexpensive, accessible events as a community service.

“I do the work, put these events into a digestible format, so that other people don’t have to,” Melrose said. “People expect information to find them now.”

But the amount of time she spends finding, posting and confirming the facts of events has led her to ask for donations from users via PayPal. In addition, Melrose now has several local businesses sponsoring her site with small advertisements on the page margins.

Melrose is also, somewhat jokingly, looking for an unpaid intern. She can be contacted through her website, freeindc.blogspot.com, on Facebook at facebook.com/FreeinDC or via Twitter at twitter.com/FreeinDCBlog.

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