Coaches help fix broken household items at the Repair Café in New Paltz

(L-R) Michael LaPoint and Frank Burnham work on an old chair. (photo by Rich Corozine)

(L-R) Michael LaPoint and Frank Burnham work on an old chair. (photo by Rich Corozine)

Above the café part of the basement at the New Paltz United Methodist Church is a hand-written quote from Canadian sage Leonard Cohen, it says: “There is a crack in everything; that’s how the light gets in.” A pretty heady thought, especially when you speak with John Wackman, the fellow who brought the idea of a Repair Café to New Paltz. He admits to there being a theology to this notion of repairing that which is broken.

“It’s a view to repair the world,” says Wackman. “It’s an old wisdom tradition that got picked up by the Europeans from Hebrew scripture.” That wisdom set-up in Amsterdam (Holland) in 2009 in the guise of the first Repair Cafe’s, places where people could take their broken household items to a central place and have Repair Coaches help them fix them. New Paltz is the seventh place in this country to have this free community event where you can bring “your beloved but broken items…things that mean something to you,” adds Wackman.


Over on one side of the Repair Café, Felicia Casey, the owner of Swan Hollow Doll Repair, assists New Paltz’s Helen Karsten in repairing Karsten’s grandmother’s 130-year-old wooden doll. It’s wooden joints need fixing, but it looks reasonably well for such an old family treasure.

Joe Holdner, from Olive Bridge via Brooklyn, works on an old oak table. He also belongs to a group called the Fixer’s Collective out of the Proteus Gowanus Gallery in Brooklyn.

Wolf Bravo does tool repair. Marisa Villarreal works on electrical items. Michael LaPoint and Frank Burnham work on an old beat-up wooden chair. Cindy Capraro and Dawn Elliot help sew old and ripped garments. It’s a kind-of something-for-everyone scene. “We had a guy doing computer repairs, but he had another engagement today,” says Wackman, holding up a hand-lettered sign.

So, the idea for the Repair Cafe is to bring these cherished things to the Repair Coaches, who will assist you in repairing the items. “It conveys the idea of a back-and-forth dialogue between the coach and the public as these items are being fixed. It actually is the most challenging and fun part of this project, watching and learning, working together,” says Wackman. A common trait of all the coaches (and most of the public) is that “they have always been tinkerers. They’ve always loved to take things apart to see how they work.”

To get the coaches Wackman had to first identify professionals out in the community. Then there were the hobbyists and retired folks. “The Retired Men of New Paltz were a big help with this,” says Wackman. “And we’re trying to cast a wide a net as possible.”

The next Repair Café at the New Paltz United Methodist Church is scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 21 (or the third Saturday of every month if possible), from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. You can access the Café on Facebook or check out Wackman’s blog in Rethink Local.