EVERETT — It’s a fix-it free-for-all.
Bring your ripped coat, broken bike or toaster that’s toast.
Anything goes. Toys, pressure washers, weed wackers, dog collars.
The fixers will try to bring it back from the dead or injured.
For free. For real.
The Repair Cafe is a sometimes monthly event by WSU Snohomish County Extension, with coffee, pastries and screwdrivers.
“The whole idea is to repair, rather than toss or replace,” said Heather Teegarden, a program coordinator. “It started in the Netherlands and caught on.”
There were four repair sessions in 2018, with the next planned for 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. this Saturday and again April 27 at the extension’s Cougar Auditorium at McCollum Park.
The sessions draw about 50 people. Teegarden said most items are fixable.
“The ones that aren’t, people are glad to have somebody give it a shot,” she said. “It’s already broken, so what’s the worst you can do?”
She recruits the dozen or so tool-bearing volunteers. “We call them ‘fixers,’” she said.
A few are repair pros in real life who donate their time. Most are just handy and creative sorts.
Several bring sewing machines to do mending. If you want, they’ll teach you how to sew on a button, without making you feel inept.
It’s that kind of vibe.
“One woman was waiting to get her espresso maker fixed when she saw a person with a vacuum cleaner waiting. She said, ‘I can help you fix that Dirt Devil’ and she started doing the repair,” Teegarden said.
The cafe runs on first-come service.
Nancy Vandenberg signs people in. She’s a fixer in her own way.
“I know how to talk to people when they walk in the door,” she said. “That’s my talent.”
For kids, there’s a big table with bins of random parts, discards, coils, screws and vestiges of irons and hairdryers.
“They can take things apart or put things together. They get to take home what they make,” said volunteer Lisa Conley, who holds onto the wire cutters and other sharp objects needed to create masterpieces.
Fixer Brian Harris, a preschool teacher by trade, dug through the kids bins for a part to repair compact binoculars missing some little ball bearings.
Beads on wire earrings were the perfect fit. “I was able to put them in the binoculars and get them to work again,” Harris said.
It was tame compared to other repair challenges.
“Last time I had a Halloween head in a bag. It was really grotesque. As I was working on it, it was screaming and yelling and wiggling around in the bag. But I got it fixed,” he said.
Where’d he hone his repair skills?
“Tinkering. My dad tinkered and my mom tinkered and I just kind of picked up on it,” he said.
“I just made a television antenna out of cardboard and aluminum foil. I tried it out on my TV, and I got 25 stations with no antenna and 50 stations with an antenna. It’s something I saw online.”
Derrick Schumacher came with his two sons and a Thomas train that had quit chugging and a seahorse music box gone silent.
“I’d heard about this thing before. We brought toys to get fixed,” he said.
His sons made stuff at the kids table.
“This is not a toy,” Elias, 5, said of a dozen old keys on a string attached to a stick. “It’s for opening doors. I can open a jail.”
“Mine is a toy,” Ezra, 3, said of his concoction of tape and rubber tubing.
Jerry Smith operates ComputerMD from his Camano Island home.
At the Repair Cafe, he cures viruses and does minor surgery. “One lady is coming back. She wants me to copy the data from her old hard drive, pictures and stuff,” he said.
Trisha Terry, of Lake Stevens, said she loves ice. But her fridge doesn’t have an ice maker. She bought a countertop ice machine on Craigslist that didn’t work. “It wouldn’t be worth fixing. I would have to buy a new one and they are expensive,” she said.
Nick Montanari dug into it.
“That’s what you need is troubleshooting. Generally things come apart and go together like this,” said Montanari, who works as a coordinator at HopeWorks in Everett.
He took apart the ice machine to find the culprit: a broken piece attached to the gear that turned the ice into the bin. Epoxy did the trick.
Donald Wong, of Edmonds, rolled in his son’s bike. “The gear won’t shift and the chain keeps coming off,” Wong said.
Apron-clad Dave Fox, who also volunteers with Sharing Wheels Community Bike Shop in Everett, turned it upside down and got to work.
So did Wong’s 6-year-old son, Jesse.
For an hour, the boy sifted through the bins.
When I put down my reporter’s tape recorder, he scooped it up and started banging around with it.
I wasn’t worried. I knew that if it broke, someone there could fix it.