Volunteer "fixers" in Philadelphia have started offering their skills for free in an effort to promote resourcefulness and sustainability, and to help build a sense of community. Not to mention the satisfaction of mending broken gadgets and appliances, from clocks to typewriters.
But the events are also about "getting people to rethink and not dumping stuff in the landfill just because they can't be bothered," said Philly Fixers Guild co-founder Holly Logan. "Instead of just going out and buying a new one, (put) in some time and elbow grease."
A recent fair drew people from as far as the New Jersey suburbs bearing busted heaters, stereos and kitchen mixers. About half the items were repaired on the spot by tinkerers whose backgrounds ranged from self-taught to a field engineer for Lockheed Martin.
It's an increasingly popular concept. Similar do-it-yourself gatherings called Repair Cafes, affiliated with a Dutch non-profit, have sprung up worldwide over the past few years. More than 700 now operate globally, up from 275 in 2013, according to its website.
The guild-sponsored Repair Fair has been held three times since last fall at various locations in Philadelphia. Its most recent event — held on a recent chilly spring day at Greensgrow Farm — was also its largest so far, attracting about 125 people.
Logan and co-founder Ben Davis describe the fair as a logical outgrowth of their conservation and neighbourhood improvement efforts in the city's Kensington, Port Richmond and Fishtown sections.
It works a bit like a hospital emergency room: Guests fill out a form at an intake table, called triage, where the patient (broken item) gets a preliminary evaluation. The case is then assigned to one of nearly 20 fixers, whose specialties range from small electronics and circuit boards to welders, woodworkers, jewelry fixers and people who sew.
"A lot of things aren't made to be fixed, unfortunately," said fixer Ron Baile. "But we'll look at everything that comes in, and we'll try."
Baile of Westmont, New Jersey, has brought his 30-plus years of mechanical and electronics experience to two fairs because he enjoys the challenge and camaraderie. At the first, he repaired a remote-controlled race car that had crashed into a tree.
"I had to do a lot of soldering to get that thing back together," Baile said.
Regardless of the final outcome, customers usually end up learning something, too, as fixers poke, prod and peer into the inner workings of various objects.
At the four-hour Greensgrow fair, fixers worked on 102 items — nearly half of which were fixed completely. Fourteen things were not economically repairable; another 14 couldn't be diagnosed or required special tools that weren't available; and 19 needed a part ordered and will be repaired later.
Rob Sommerville's old cassette deck fell into the last category.
"They took it apart and showed me what needed to be fixed, and gave me a lead on where to find that part," said Sommerville, of Cherry Hill, New Jersey. "So I'm leaving a happy person. It's not working yet, but we have a way to fix it."
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