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Trying to keep salvageable items out of landfill, Boise holds first Repair Café

  Mark Bowen, left, and Joe Prin work on a busted lamp at Boise's first Repair Café.
Murphy Woodhouse
/
Boise State Public Radio
Mark Bowen, left, and Joe Prin work on a busted lamp at Boise's first Repair Café.

After some 30 some years of faithful service, an orange-heavy recipe brought Cynthia Richards’ beloved juicer to a halt. At first, she got a hand squeezer to replace it.

“But I have arthritis,” she explained. “I was like, ‘No, no! This is not the time for it to break on me!’”

So, on a recent Thursday afternoon, she brought the busted juicer to Boise’s very first Repair Café. With the help of volunteer Dale Podolan, it came roaring back to life – to Richards’ delight.

“Look at that!” she shouted as it whirred. “That’s it, that’s it!”

 "Cynthia Richards shows off her newly repaired juicer, which had given some 30 years of loyal service before an orange-heavy recipe brought it to a halt."
Murphy Woodhouse
/
Boise State Public Radio
"Cynthia Richards shows off her newly repaired juicer, which had given some 30 years of loyal service before an orange-heavy recipe brought it to a halt."

A bell was rung to mark the success, and applause echoed through the airy room near the top of Jack’s Urban Meeting Place, a gathering space in downtown Boise where a small army of able volunteer tinkerers, tailors and electricians like Podolan was on hand.

Podolan learned the value of repair growing up on a farm, and went on to spend his career working at electronics manufacturers in the Treasure Valley. And now those skills could mean many more years for Richards’ citrus press and other items that might otherwise end up in the landfill.

“And it was a matter of old grease, probably old juice that got down into the motor and it just simply needed to be cleaned up and re-lubricated,” he said. “And we're fine.”

Community of fixers

The sounds of resurrected vacuum cleaners and other appliances filled the room. One young girl ran ecstatic circles in sandals – restored with just two small strips of new velcro.

 Eagle resident Joe Bain shows off his recently repaired vacuum cleaner. "Now it works," he said. "Saved me 100 bucks!"
Murphy Woodhouse
/
Boise State Public Radio
Eagle resident Joe Bain shows off his recently repaired vacuum cleaner. "Now it works," he said. "Saved me 100 bucks!"

But not every item was destined for a second chance, like Liz Neighbor’s coffee grinder.

“It makes me very sad,” she lamented. “I'm going to have to have a funeral service and say goodbye.”

  Four-and-a-half-year-old Roxy's sandals just needed a couple strips of velcro to be good as new.
Murphy Woodhouse
/
Boise State Public Radio
Four-and-a-half-year-old Roxy's sandals just needed a couple strips of velcro to be good as new.

All told, participants brought in 40 items. The 30 successfully repaired weighed in at 165 pounds and were worth an estimated $3,000.

“We have a community of fixers who are able to fix things from broken household appliances to clothing that needs to be mended,” said Catherine Milner, an analyst with the City of Boise’s Curb It waste and recycling program, which helped organize the free event. “And so we're just trying to pair community members with those fixers so that they can have an option other than sending it to the landfill or another diversion option.”

She was heartened by the response, and organizers hope to make the Repair Café a recurring event, with the second slated for August 10.

‘Don’t get discouraged’

There are about 2,700 such events around the world, according to the Repair Café Foundation, the group behind the international movement. The first official event was in Amsterdam in 2009. Most are held in Europe, and those in the U.S. are concentrated on the East Coast. But a handful have sprung up in the West, like Boise’s – and one in Chandler, Ariz.

For more than a year, Repair Café Chandler founder Melissa Anderson has been learning how to keep a cafe going. Their inaugural event last spring brought an estimated 100 people.

“But then the numbers kind of went down some,” she said.

That was discouraging, but then calls started coming in from people interested in volunteering, or who wanted to know when the next was.

“Don't get discouraged, just keep going,” she said, sharing the advice she’d give to would-be cafe organizers. “Because people are still learning that this is even an option. We've been trained to toss it and buy something new.”

‘We have light!’

Back in Boise, a cheap metal lamp with a busted base was disassembled, its pieces scattered on a table in front of volunteer handymen Mark Bowen and Joe Prin – host of the local HomeFix radio show.

“We gotta take five things apart to fix one thing,” Prin said.

“Exactly,” Bowen interjected.

“And then we’ll put the five things back together,” Prin explained.

“It's not a Tiffany, I'll just say that,” owner Roberta Rene said, looking on. “It's broken, and I think I don't want it anymore, but it's too nice to throw away.”

Prin and Bowen struggled to work the lamp cord back up through the base to the socket. WD40 didn’t cut it, and Prin asked me for a hand with Plan B: pulling a string tied to a wire through, and then pulling the cable through with the wire.

“Ok, I’m pulling on this guy?” I asked.

“You’re pulling the string,” he instructed. “Just a steady gentle tug.”

Once the cable was through, it was smooth sailing.

“All right. The wire is good. I'm plugged in. I think we hooked everything up in the socket, right?” said Prin, running through a mental checklist. “We put the cardboard safety sleeve back in, got a light bulb in there…”

Click. 

“And we have light!” he shouted.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Copyright 2023 Boise State Public Radio News. To see more, visit Boise State Public Radio News.

Murphy Woodhouse
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