Repair Cafe helps save
Jim Ihrig (right) of River Forest and Mac Robinet of Oak Park look at plastic gears they pulled from a broken mixer. | J.Geil ~ For Sun-Times Media
Updated: April 22, 2013 10:49AM
OAK PARK — Mac Robinet likes the challenge of a broken VCR.
Robinet, co-founder of the local Repair Café, is one of several fix-it types who get together once a month to repair broken things people might otherwise throw away.
At most recent Repair Café, held Saturday, March 16 at the Lifelong Learning Center at the Oak Park Arms, a stroller, humidifier and electric pencil sharpener were among the items brought in.
Robinet and Nancy Bauer teamed up to create the Repair Café Oak Park a couple of months ago. The concept started in the Netherlands, and the first one was held locally in January.
Bauer said the purpose is threefold: environmental, with the goal of reducing waste; social, in that it brings together community members to talk and share skills; and educational, as people learn how to make repairs.
Volunteers said a majority of things made today are not meant to be repaired but replaced when broken.
That’s not Bauer’s way.
“Reduce, reuse and recycle,” she said.
In some cases, those who have an emotional attachment to an item would rather repair it than replace it, Robinet said. One woman brought in an antique hand mixer given to her parents as a wedding gift. The mixer had broken, but volunteers were able to make necessary repairs, he said.
“It was more sentimental in value to her,” he said.
Saturday, one room was set up for textiles and jewelry repair, while small electrics, appliances and toys were fixed in another area. General handymen — locals who love to fix stuff, like Robinet — examined items and tried to make necessary repairs.
“Our handymen and women often bring their own tools,” Bauer said.
Items can’t be dropped off, Robinet said. In some cases, volunteers guide people as they make repairs themselves. They don’t intend to take away business from those who make repairs professionally, but offer an alternative. The work is free and there’s no guarantee items can be fixed, but donations are welcome.
As things are fixed, volunteers and those bringing in items strike up conversations over coffee and doughnuts. During a previous café, a man with woodworking skills offered advice to a woman planning to build a deck.
Oak Park resident Deborah Wess brought in an electric pencil sharpener she picked up used several months ago that had recently stopped working. Volunteer Raam Mehendale simply had to clean out the electrical contacts to get the sharpener up and running.
“It seems like a great idea, not to buy new things all the time,” Wess said. “Seems like things made today are meant to be thrown away when they break.”
Mehendale stuck a pencil in the sharpener and the signature buzz returned.
“Yeah!” Wess exclaimed. “Love that sound.”
She was in and out in about 10 minutes. Mehendale, who enjoys do-it-yourself projects and repurposing old items, said a neighbor got him involved in the Repair Café.
“I’m the home handyman,” he said with a laugh. The pencil sharpener was his first fix of the day, “and it was a good start.”
“Nothing like a happy ending,” Wess said as she left.
The next Repair Café will be held from noon to 3 p.m. April 21 at the Lifelong Learning Center at the Oak Park Arms, 414 S. Oak Park Ave.