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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

New Spokane Repair Café at Perry Street Market teaches people how to fix household items in a ‘throwaway society’

Everyone has that one lamp that shorted out, a chair with a wobbly leg or a broken favorite toy that begs the question: throw it away or fix it?

A group of Perry District residents may have the answer, and members are eager to share. With a laudable goal of encouraging sustainability and community, they are opening a monthly Spokane Repair Café during the Perry Street Market.

Volunteers run the booth to help fix whatever people bring them. The goal is not only to prevent items from being dumped into landfills, but to pass on skills.

Chris DeForest first heard about the international Repair Café community through his sister, who religiously attends her local Repair Café in Seattle.

“I like the idea of saving good old things to give them new life,” DeForest said.

But when he looked for a Repair Café in Spokane, he struck out.

So he talked with his friend and neighbor, Kent Larson, about the concept, and he ran with it.

Larson and his wife, Julie Goltz, said they’ve always been handy, a skill they learned from their parents.

“We’ve always been do-it-yourselfers,” Goltz said.

“That’s kind of who we are,” Larson added.

A few years ago, they filled in the swimming pool in their backyard, built a retaining wall and landscaped the whole area. Larson takes on tasks like refinishing furniture or replacing window screens with ease.

In recent years, though, the couple has noticed a societal shift toward tossing broken items rather than repairing them.

Goltz attributes that to a few factors. People are busier now, she said, and they’re not passing those fix-it skills down to their children.

And things aren’t made to last amid a drumbeat of marketing to consumers to buy new and buy more, Larson added.

To be a part of the solution, the pair along with their friends decided to found the Spokane Repair Café, a chapter of an international organization that encourages mending and fixing broken items at a community level.

They decided to set up a booth the second Thursday of every month at the Perry Street Market to see if the idea would catch on.

The first Repair Café took place Thursday. The next one will be from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. June 8.

Kit Ellingwood loved the idea when she first heard about it from Larson.

“It’s an awesome idea, and I kind of realized I’ve done it all my life,” Ellingwood said of fixing things. “You just have to be willing to try it and take it apart.”

The first meeting was largely to spread the word and encourage people to bring broken items in June. Many marketgoers showed interest, Ellingwood said.

One woman told Ellingwood she had just moved to Spokane and needed to add a zipper to an item of clothing. She knew how to do it but didn’t have a sewing machine.

That’s exactly the kind of situation for the Repair Café to take on, Ellingwood said.

People can just use tools they may not have to fix items themselves, or they can ask volunteers for advice and support in fixing things.

Chris Oxford, a product designer for e-bikes and scooters, was hard at work using fiber glass cloth and epoxy to repair the joint of a green plastic chomping alligator Thursday afternoon.

He hopes to share his expertise with the community.

“We’ve lost a lot of expertise in repairing things because it’s so easy to throw things out and buy new things,” Oxford said. “And that’s not sustainable.”

He hopes the group can “change people’s minds about a throwaway society.”

The Repair Café does have some practical limits. Items can’t be gas-powered and should be something people can carry to and from the market.

Examples include things like rewiring a lamp, fixing a hairdryer or blender, repairing jewelry or refinishing wood items.

Volunteer, Mark Safranek, is an expert at electrical issues and is on site to help. The group is also looking for volunteers, like Safranek, willing to share their expertise.

As music wafted over the market Thursday, DeForest stood in the hot sun chatting with people in line at the tamale booth next to the Repair Café. One woman, a Montessori school teacher, jumped at the idea to bring the broken wooden toys from her classroom over for repair.

“Who wouldn’t respond to, do you have anything broken that we can fix for free?” DeForest asked .

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Kent Larson and Julie Goltz’s names.