Foss: Meet the Niskayuna man behind the new Repair Cafe

011718DWestRepairCafe03

Sarah Foss

Daily Gazette Columnist

 

Dave West can fix just about anything.

When an older couple came to him with a broken clock, West was pretty sure he knew what to do. He set up a table, got out his tools and made a diagnosis.

“I said, ‘I think this needs to be taken apart, cleaned and lubricated,'” West recalled. He did those things, and soon the clock was “purring like a kitten.”

The most rewarding part?

West showed the couple what he was doing, so that they would be able to maintain and repair the clock themselves.

The Niskayuna retiree believes that teaching people how to fix things empowers them, and on Saturday he’s launching a volunteer-run program called the Repair Cafe.

The idea is simple: People can bring broken items to a Repair Cafe event, where volunteers will make the needed repairs and teach people how to make them themselves.

The purpose of the Saturday event is to recruit volunteers and introduce people to the concept of a Repair Cafe.

It will run from 1 to 4 p.m. in the McChesney Room at the main branch of the Schenectady County Public Library, and people can drop in any time. There will be several demonstrations — West will be demonstrating how to fix lamps — but no free repairs: The first “live repair” event will be held on April 14, after more volunteers have been recruited.

West is seeking volunteers with a variety of skills — people who can fix small electric appliances, clothing, furniture, jewelry, dolls and toys, watches and clocks, bicycles, ceramics and other small mechanical items.

To West, the most appealing aspect of the Repair Cafe is that “we’re teaching others to help themselves.”

Unlike West, who has volunteered at five different Repair Cafes, all located in the Hudson Valley, I’ve never been to a Repair Cafe.

But I love the concept.

I love it for the reason West mentioned — that it teaches people to help themselves — but for other reasons as well.

Such as: It can save people money and salvage items that would otherwise be destined for the landfill. We live in an increasingly disposable culture, where people are more inclined to replace broken stuff with new stuff, and toss anything in need of a fix into the garbage.

But there’s something to be said for saving what we can — for living a little more thriftily.

West made it clear that many of the items brought to a Repair Cafe require a simple fix, perhaps just a cleaning. He also made it clear that many items have sentimental value — yes, you can replace them, but they won’t possess the personal significance that made you hold onto them for so many years.

The couple who brought West a clock to repair had owned it since they were married shortly after World War II, he told me. “They had a strong sentimental attachment to it.”

West, 67, is a locksmith who worked for Shenendehowa Central Schools for 27 years, serving first as maintenance supervisor and then as energy management supervisor. He carries a number of small tools on him. When I met with him, he pulled out a pocket flashlight, screwdriver and two multi-tools.

Today’s world is much different from the one West grew up in.

“A lot of stuff is not made to be fixed,” West said. “My grandfather was a very frugal man, to the point where a new nail was not something I often saw. There were plenty of old nails in a pile of lumber out by the barn.”

He added, “I was always a curious kid. I wanted to take things apart and learn how they worked. And I survived those efforts.”

Now West is ready to teach old and young alike how to take something broken and make it work again. He’s eager to share his skills, and I hope his Repair Cafe is greeted with similar enthusiasm.

Reach Gazette columnist Sara Foss at sfoss@dailygazette.net. Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s.