This summer, West Side residents who have any household items that need to be fixed, such as lamps, clocks, tables, toys, mixers, even record turntables, have been able to take them to the Austin Branch Public Library, 5615 W. Race St. 

Members of the nonprofit Repair Cafe have been on hand on the fourth Saturday of the month in June and July to make repairs and give advice on what parts you can buy at a local hardware store to complete a job on-site or at home. 

The next Repair Cafes in the Austin Branch library will be held Sat. July 27, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. e

Austin resident Veronica Sorrell said that the repairs cut costs and keep people’s possessions from cluttering landfills and contributing to climate change. Sorrell added that the repairs also bring people together and helps them become more self-sufficient. 

Sorrell worked with Roy Kinsey, Austin’s teen library, to set up the repair sessions with Oak Park Repair Cafe organizer McLouis Robinet, who along with Kinsey is an active member of the Austin Town Hall Park advisory council.  

Sorrell, who makes faith banners and signs, has physical disabilities that keep her from heavy or regular work. She helps people with sewing repairs like hems, buttons and seam adjustments.  

“I’m thankful to help others because so many here have helped me,” she said. “We’d like to find local fixers and get our own group started here in Austin like they have in Oak Park.”

“This is the first Repair Cafe, of several thousand worldwide, to locate in a predominantly Black community,” Kinsey said. “A lot of us grew up with someone around who fixes things. Helping them is a bonding experience. Today you can develop a skill and patience instead of just following society’s tendency of instant gratification. You can fix something instead of throwing it away to a landfill.”  

Kinsey said that teens can volunteer at the library for community service credits for school. A Repair Cafe clock tear-apart session at the library last year attracted 10 young people. Robinet said the girls had as much fun as the boys.  

Robinet said many Repair Cafe volunteers are seniors like himself with broad mechanical skills— the kind of people who, as children, loved to take things apart.

Alan Fox, wearing a T-shirt saying “I Void Warranties” has been fixing things since he took apart a watch at eight years old. He managed to get all the the watch parts back in the case only to find it didn’t work, but he kept going. He is a cabinet-maker skilled at fixing furniture and appliances. David Stocklosa also confessed to being one of those tinkering kids.

Gary Lundin of LaGrange, a retired sales engineer dealing with electric motors joined the group after seeing a news story five years ago. 

“I enjoy working with people and fixing stuff,” he said. 

The Oak Park Repair Cafe started seven years ago and is hosted by the Lifelong Learning Center headquartered at Oak Park Arms, a retirement center. The Oak Park Repair Cafe is a chapter of the international Repair Cafe, which was organized in Amsterdam, Holland. 

The international group encourages people to patronize local repair shops to achieve the overall goal of conserving resources and increasing community fixit skills. Fixers take no money for the work, but welcome donations for the coffee and donuts served at the Repair Cafe. 


"Barrelhouse Bonni" McKeown, the author of "West Side Blues Blog," has played piano and written about blues music for over 15 years.  She has led classes for young and old on...