When New Paltz resident John Wackman introduced The Repair Café to New Paltz a little more than a year ago, it was the first one in the area. Held on the third Saturday of every other month at the New Paltz United Methodist Church, The Repair Café offers the opportunity to drop in with something that needs to be repaired — whether it’s a lamp that needs rewiring, an old piece of furniture in disrepair, a favorite shirt that’s split its seam or a beloved old toy in need of a little TLC — and minor fixes are made by “repair coaches,” volunteers from the community with specialized skills who donate their time and efforts.
But it’s not a drop-off service: repairs are made while you watch or help. The café part of the concept is fulfilled through the social aspects of the events, where baked goods are offered at nominal cost and the camaraderie between repair coaches and those who drop in is evident. Traditional repair skills are passed on, less stuff goes into the waste stream and community is built.
So it’s no surprise that the concept has been adopted by other Hudson Valley towns, with Repair Cafés in Rosendale now alternating every other month with New Paltz. A successful first event was held in Rhinebeck last month, and now Kingston Transition is sponsoring a Repair Café at the Clinton St. Methodist Church on Saturday, June 28 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Up to now, however, the events have all been held on Saturdays, and not everybody is off work over the weekends. “From the very beginning, we’ve been asked if we could hold a Repair Café in the evening,” said Wackman. “So now we have.”
The inaugural p.m. version of Repair Café was held in New Paltz on Wednesday, June 11 at The Treehouse artisan craft gallery on Church Street. Proprietor Kathy Preston has been a supporter since the start, Wackman said, as has Preston’s business partner, Cindy Capraro, an expert seamstress who has served as a regular repair coach for the Repair Café at the church since last year, using the same sewing skills she utilizes in her alterations business at The Treehouse.
The space at the shop is divided up between the women with Preston’s craft gallery at the front of the shop and Capraro’s sewing studio in the back. In between is classroom space, which is where the Repair Café happened last Wednesday from 6 to 9 p.m.
When asked what kind of things people usually bring to her at Repair Cafés, Capraro said it’s usually something that they’re attached to, or minor fixes that aren’t really difficult to do but require some sewing knowledge, like replacing a broken zipper or elastic pulled out of a casing. One time, she said, a young boy brought in an old sailboat toy that his grandfather had made; Capraro helped him restore the torn frayed sails with hand sewing.
Repair coach Barbara Lane is a retired art teacher with 33 years experience teaching elementary school kids in Wappingers. Now a part-time secretary at the Reformed Church of New Paltz, Lane makes jewelry “just for fun” and volunteers with the Repair Café where she makes minor repairs to jewelry brought in.
Lane sat with her boxes of jewelry findings and tools opposite Pat Sansone from Milton, who’d brought in a few pair of her friend’s earrings. Sansone knew about Repair Café from having been to one at the New Paltz United Methodist Church with her 89-year-old father, who was very happy, she said, to have had his old Magnavox television-turntable made workable again at it. On this occasion, Lane was able to salvage two of the pairs of earrings and return them in wearable condition, but the third, with its spring-loaded backing, had lost its spring.
Lane told the story of having helped a woman shorten a necklace once, resulting in a few leftover beads. When Lane learned the woman planned to discard the beads, she told her, “Don’t do that; let’s make matching earrings out of them.” Months later, Lane said, she ran into that woman, who recognized her, saying, “You’re that woman! See, I’m wearing the earrings!”
Repair coach “Ken Fix It” from Rosendale worked on an old lamp and stool brought in by New Paltz resident Susan Vinett, who said she had picked the items up at two different flea markets and while neither was functional, “I just loved the pieces.” Vinett noted the positive atmosphere in the room and seemed very pleased that her flea market finds were going to be brought back to life. Ken Fix it said he volunteers at most of the Repair Café events, usually working on vacuums and lamps. Why does he do it? “I like to see the look on their faces,” he said.
A few feet away, Harper Keehn sharpened scissors and knives using a substantial professional sharpening wheel, and Dawn Elliott, whose skill is repairing antique clothing, awaited any visitors with knit items in need of darning, a particular specialty of hers. Keehn was volunteering at the Repair Café for the first time, but Elliott is a regular, who says most people bring sweaters to her that they have some kind of emotional attachment to. “They’ll say, ‘it was my mom’s,’ or ‘it’s my favorite,'” Elliott said, “and people are so grateful. It’s funny, they think sometimes they’re burdening us, but they’re not; that’s what we’re here for.”
Kathy Preston says they will continue holding evening Repair Cafés at The Treehouse on the second Wednesday of every other month. The next event is planned for Wednesday, Aug. 13 from 6 to 9 p.m. The next Repair Café at the New Paltz United Methodist Church at 1 Grove Street will be on Saturday, July 19 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Rosendale may have an event this weekend on Saturday, June 21; check www.Facebook.com/RepairCafeNewPaltz before heading out.