About four times a year, the Museum of American Heritage in Palo Alto transforms into the ultimate handyman’s shop.
A few dozen volunteers bring tools of all sorts — from your average wrench to soldering irons and multimeters — and a positive attitude. Locals with broken kitchen appliances, finicky electronics or just some torn-up jeans wait patiently to get their items fixed or get help fixing it themselves.
This is the Repair Cafe.
“I started this from the perspective of somebody who was interested in helping people live waste-free,” says Peter Skinner, founder of the Repair Cafe Palo Alto. “I wanted to give them an option that wasn’t a function of throwing items away and going down to Target or Walmart and buying a new thing.”
The Repair Cafe movement began as a simple fix-it meetup in 2009 in Amsterdam. Since then, it has grown into a nonprofit organization with more than 1,000 registered cafes across the globe. Skinner’s Repair Cafe in Palo Alto was the first in the United States when it started in 2012.
In its five years, Repair Cafe Palo Alto says its volunteers have worked on more than 3,000 broken items and fixed or partially fixed nearly 2,200. Things that prove to be beyond repair are recycled by Zero Waste Palo Alto. According to the group, about 72 percent of the items brought to them have been kept out of the landfill.
As for Skinner’s repair specialty, he says he’s not much of a handyman.
“I’m an organizer,” he says. “I’m a lousy repairman.”