Fixer Upper

Volunteers at a Repair Café in Palo Alto, Calif., repair bikes, clothing and tools. | Photos courtesy of Repair Cafe Palo Alto

Group focused on saving broken items from the trash heap
brings Repair Café to Philadelphia

On September 20, a repurposed bowling alley in the basement of the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill will be transformed into Pennsylvania’s first Repair Café. Yes, there will be coffee provided by the nearby Weavers Way Co-op, but this is a cafe unlike most in that it invites Philadelphians to drag in their broken lawn mowers, busted vacuum cleaners, damaged jewelry and worn-out bicycles to be repaired—for free.

The Repair Café is based on an event that took place in the Netherlands in 2009, and has since been replicated in nearly 300 other cities and towns around the globe. The goal of these events is to make connections between those with broken items and those with the skills to fix them. The result is fewer items in the landfill.

“We hope to bring in some younger people who’ve forgotten, or never learned, what it is to have an item that lasts for a long time,” says Betsy Wallace, member coordinator for Time4Time Community Exchange, a local timebank organizing the event. Wallace adds that she hopes to also engage an older generation of Philadelphians who grew up in an era before planned obsolescence dominated the consumer world.

“It’s a very intergenerational kind of thing, where they learn something about the insides of their broken item and how to fix it,” she says.

Time4Time expects fixer volunteers from Home Depot, Kilian Hardware and Gaffney Fabrics, but is also looking for anybody with experience rewiring lamps, tuning up lawn mowers, gluing toys, deciphering smartphones, sharpening knives, debugging computers or any other mending talents. Handy people looking for a fun, fulfilling day helping others and reducing waste can fill out an online application on the Time4Time website.

Though the event is free to the public and welcomes walk-ins, fixer volunteers will be able to log their time in the timebank, a time-based currency that they can redeem for labor from other Time4Time members at any point in the future.

“By using time as a medium of exchange and a unit of currency, you not only have something that is storable and can be applied in the future, but you also have something that can be applied to third parties,” says Ken Sorenson, an active member of the Time4Time network. “And you can’t tax time.”

Though the idea of Repair Café or a timebank might be foreign to most people, says Wallace, the appeal of both is intuitive, and the implications for those she calls “undervalued” by our economy—the elderly, the unemployed, minorities, women—are immense.

“You’ve got the gift of giving people the opportunity to use their skills and talents, instead of essentially being on the trash heap,” says Josephine Leigh, a member of the Steering Committee for the Repair Café. “I think there’s a lot of potential there.” 

Bring your broken household items to the Repair Café from 1:30 to 5 p.m. Sept. 20 at the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill, 8855 Germantown Ave.

Handy? Sign up to either volunteer to help manage the event or to fix items.