Fixer Beth Poague, a freelance documentary producer by day, hand-stitched a split seam on a stuffed squirrel dressed for Christmas. A few minutes later, 6-year-old Henry Gute’s toy squirrel looked brand new. “Thank you,” the boy said to Poague.
That day, others came to Repair Café Hudson Valley at Beacon’s Howland Cultural Center with broken lamps, dusty boom boxes, rickety chairs and split cushions, but left with smiles on their faces.
The monthly fix-it-up cafés take place across the Valley, providing a range of free repair services and a means to recycle previously prized possessions that might otherwise be discarded. “The purpose of the café is to turn around the throw-away economy, to help reduce flow to the landfills and give people a different attitude toward their stuff,” said founder John Wackman.
Going back a generation or more, repair shops fixed household items, large and small, he said. While you can still fix certain items, like computers and vacuum cleaners, these shops have mostly disappeared. “People have an item they really don’t want to throw out, but there’s no place to get it fixed,” said Wackman. “We’re fulfilling an unmet need.”
In turn, the cafés provide a venue to teach traditional repair skills that are less and less common in a technology-based society. And with a “no drop-offs” rule, people often stand, watch, and learn as their items are repaired.
Antony Tseng helps Andrew Russell fix a broken power cord. Robin Hammond (far left) and John Wackman (far right) look on.
Though repairs are done for free, donations are encouraged. Repair coaches, also known as “fixers,” come from all walks of life. Some are retired, some are homemakers; others are professional electricians, mechanics and engineers. They bring their own tools, but are reimbursed for parts.
But aside from recycling and getting items fixed for free, people attend the cafés because they offer a real connection to the community, said café coordinator Antony Tseng, an engineer who first brought up the idea of starting a Repair Café in the City of Beacon. “This is neighbor helping neighbor,” he said, greeting one friend after another as he spliced a power cord.
The very first Repair Café was held in Amsterdam in 2009. It was started by former Dutch journalist, Martine Postma as a collective way for communities to recycle. The cafés quickly gained traction.
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The Hudson Valley’s first Repair Café was held at the New Paltz United Methodist Church in 2013. It was an instant success, according to Wackman, and spread to eight locations in just three years. The Howland Center has sponsored the café for about a year. According to Tseng, “There was a big need.”
If you’re looking to have something fixed, Repair Café Hudson Valley welcomes you. “We say, ‘Bring your beloved, but broken item to Repair Café to be fixed by an expert – who also happens to be your neighbor,’” “We can’t guarantee that your item will be fixed, but we can guarantee you’ll have an interesting time.”
To learn more about Repair Café Hudson Valley and to view a café calendar, visit www.repaircafehv.org.