“We got press!” This was the surprised cry from Billie Golan, who started New Orleans’ own Repair Café in the summer of 2022. Although the bi-monthly event has rolled out with little fanfare, the free community resource has gained popularity.
Here’s how it works: twice a month (one Monday and one Wednesday of each month) Repair Cafe volunteers set up shop on the second floor of the Broadmoor Arts & Wellness Center to help all who enter repair their goods and sundry: bikes, electronics and appliances, clothing and jewelry, furniture.
There are snacks provided, and those getting repairs done are expected to assist the repair experts if they can, and hopefully learn about how to repair their items for the future. Donations are appreciated, but not required, though visitors may be expected to help pay for the cost of parts, if applicable.
Though the Repair Café is new to New Orleans, it is far from the first of its kind. The event series began well over a decade ago in the Netherlands; Martine Postma founded the first Repair Café in Amsterdam in 2009.
Since then, new Repair Cafés have started all over Europe, and have spread to Africa, Asia, Australia, and North and South America. The website features free resources on fixing everyday items, as well as information on how to start new Repair Cafés.
The Broadmoor Repair Cafe is the first in Louisiana.
At Monday’s event, there was a textile and jewelry station and a computer and cellphone station. Mechanical experts who could work on larger machines and furniture were also available. All of the repair experts are volunteers.
“I’ve been sewing since I was a very little kid, my great-grandmother taught me,” said Cassie Tarr, who does textile and jewelry repair.
“I can usually get a lot of wear out of my clothes because I can repair them,” said Tarr, a self-described hobbyist when it comes to sewing and textiles as well as a painter in Jackson Square.
At the next table was the computer and cellphone repair station, staffed by Rob Rice.
“I’ve just always worked with computers since I was a little kid,” he said. He and Tarr have both been volunteering at the Repair Cafe since it started in New Orleans.
When asked for tips on how to keep one’s computer in good shape he offered a few quick suggestions: running malware and antivirus programs periodically, uninstalling applications that you don’t use, keeping the device clean and free of dust and gunk.
Rice said at the Repair Cafe there are quite a few things that he can do to work on computers: help them run faster, diagnose issues, work on viruses. He’s helped quite a few computer-owners with their devices at the repair cafe.
“If you can’t fix it, you don’t own it,” Golan said
This is the self-evident slogan from ifixit.com, first posted in 2010. As companies such as Apple and John Deere fight to exercise control over equipment even after their purchase, right-to-repair advocates argue that consumers have a right to fix what is theirs, and avoid programmed obsolescence and monopolies on repair knowledge and technology.
“Learning the art of repair — the goal is to change how we relate to our things,” said Golan. Golan said that the goal of the Repair Cafe’s work is to keep things out of landfills and extend the life of the items that people need fixed, creating a “repair revolution” where the objective is “going from a throwaway economy to a circular economy”.
While the Repair Cafe is new to New Orleans, even mid-Carnival there were several volunteers as well as snacks and drinks for anyone who came in. Golan’s bike and phone received attention from the repair experts, and this reporter received advice on her laptop’s issues.
Golan says that the repair crew is “always looking for anyone who wants to be a part of this event,” whether you have a special area of knowledge or are just looking to meet the repair experts, hang out and maybe pick up a new skill.
The Repair Café is also always accepting donations of supplies, as well as food and beverages. At Monday’s Cafe, Golan had cooked vegan red beans and rice to share with the volunteers and visitors. Golan’s hope is that the event continues and grows.
“Repair Cafés are completely free and community led,” she said. “Once you’re interested in fixing things, your skills branch out from there.”
The next Repair Cafés are scheduled for Monday, March 13, and Wednesday, March 29, at the Broadmoor Arts & Wellness Center, 3900 Gen. Taylor St.
Reporter Jesse Baum can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.