Wed June 20, 2012
‘Repair Cafe’ in La Crosse
People in La Crosse who've got something that isn't working quite right have an alternative to replacing it. They can see if it can be fixed at the Repair Cafe.
Shana Meshbesher recently rolled her golden 21-speed vintage bike into The Root Note, an eclectic coffee shop in downtown La Crosse. Two bike mechanics get up from their table and start inspecting it. She tells them the gears aren’t shifting smoothly.
For the next few minutes, the Bikes Limited mechanics poke and prod at the bike with their screwdrivers and wrenches. They explain to Meshbesher what they’re doing and why they’re doing it.
Once a month, people can come by the Repair Café with their broken goods, and experts will be on hand to help fix them. At this inaugural event, bike mechanics and computer technicians volunteered their time.
Jeff Su read about the concept in The New York Times. Repair Cafes are popping up all over the Netherlands, and he thought it’d work great in La Crosse. As executive director of the Myrick Hixon EcoPark, Su works to promote a sustainable lifestyle. That includes fixing things rather than throwing them away. “Obviously it’s important to reduce our waste stream, reducing the amount of things going to the landfill,” he says. “I think there’s something kind of cultural about it, too. Just to have the culture of maintaining things for a long and reduce our need for consumerism and so much manufacturing.”
Su says it’s fulfilling to work on your own bike or sew a button on a shirt.
But many people have lost those skills or never developed them in the first place. Repair Café does have an educational aspect to it. Root Note co-owner Corrie Brekke says she hopes to close the skilled generational gap. “I think we haven’t had all chances to learn some of the skills and crafts and arts that were much more focused on in the past,” she says. “So I think that could be fun, if we could get some people who have some of those skills to come in and teach us young folks to do things.”
Brekke sees the Repair Café as a community builder. Even on the first night, it’s clear that friendships are forming and business connections are developing.
Some may wonder why businesses would give away free services. Bikes Limited service manager Josh Kenworthy says it’s more about teaching people how to take care of bikes rather than making money. “Drink a beer, drink a coffee, and work on some people’s bikes. I’m totally ok with that,” he says.
Plus, not everything can be fixed at the Repair Café. If a bike needs a new cable or a computer needs a new hinge, the customer will be sent to the store.
Across the room, Shana Meshbesher is having the computer technicians look at her broken Macbook, which has been sititng in a drawer for years. While mechanics were able to get her bike into shape, Orange Computer owner Matthew Metzger does not have such good news for her. Her computer is now junk.
But Meshbesher’s ok with that. Because overall, she says the Repair Café was a success. “We all are special individuals that, whether we know it or not, have something to offer,” she says. “If we simply utilize one another’s respective talents and acknowledge each other, just imagine how we’d thrive in that kind of society.”
And in a few weeks, Meshbesher says she may show up with her sewing machine, help someone fix an old pair of pants, and pay it forward.