It's 11 a.m. on a Saturday morning at Sunnycrest Mall in Gibsons. Five guys, each with skills, each toting a Stanley portable tool chest, are arranging their tables ready for their first challenges from the public. It’s time for Repair Café, a free (or by donation) service to fix and reuse many of the items customers might have thrown away.
“My heart breaks every time I go by Gibsons Recycle,” says Wayne Harjula, who has been one of the committed repair wizards at the pop-up café for the past five years.
He shows me boxes of battery packs, thrown away as useless, many of them designed by companies that make them difficult to open for repair and therefore force the consumer to buy new.
Wayne estimates that 70 per cent of what’s in the landfill can be reused. The Repair Café has made over 2,000 repairs in its three-times-a-month sessions, but most of that is not from scavenged items. It’s from the public who arrive in droves bearing kettles, vacuum cleaners, clocks and lamps.
By 11:05 Deb Anderson is first in line to ask repairman Fred Mason if he can fix a delightful ornament, a Halloween house that is supposed to light up and move—when it works. It has sentimental value to her and her daughter.
But is it worth the time and money to fix something that we can easily buy again? Wayne points out that there’s often a story behind each item that makes the item meaningful and worth repair. Fred diligently works to make that happen for the Halloween curio.
Someone brings in a leaf blower and we all listen to its harrowing blast, while Wayne works on a clock repair and Alastair Rough examines the top mechanism of a shop vac.
Usually the customer waits while the repair guys work on the item—that way everyone learns what went wrong, although sometimes the customer is sent away to Gibsons Building Supplies for the right parts that will allow the fix.
Odette Venuti brings in an emulsifier for making mayonnaise or salad dressing. “It’s new,” she says, “and I was going to throw it out but brought it here instead.”
That’s just what the Repair Café wants to hear. There’s a camaraderie among those fixing.
“It’s a friendly environment for engineers,” Wayne says. “Each has a specialty.”
Repair Café is in Gibsons on the first and last Saturdays of the month, and in the Sechelt Library on the second Saturday of the month. No appointment is necessary but expect a line-up. It’s popular.
Even better, it’s called café for a reason—you can enjoy coffee and butter tarts while you wait.