ABSTRACT With the cultural turn in economic geography, the emphasis on economic necessity when explaining participation in alternative consumption spaces (i.e. informal and/or second-hand retail channels) has been contested by an agency-orientated cultural reading that views engagement in such spaces as about the search for fun, sociality, distinction, discernment, the spectacular and so forth, and more recently by a geographically sensitive approach that ascribes agency to affluent populations and economic rationales to deprived populations. Drawing upon evidence collected during 120 face-to-face interviews in the English city of Leicester, however, this paper finds that people's reasons for engaging in such practices cannot be reduced simply to either economic necessity or agency. Instead, it reveals that such either/or thinking obfuscates how both co-exist in people's explanations for engagement and combine in contrasting ways in different neighbourhood types, modes of goods acquisition and according to the type of good sought. The outcome of this paper is thus to transcend and reconcile previous reductive explanations using a both/and approach that recognises the varying ways in which economic necessity and choice are entangled in rationales for participation in alternative consumption spaces.