Machine Design

A Closer Look: Repair Cafes Pop Up Across Upstate NY

1. Repairs are often a collaborative process to “find the fix.” Repair volunteers bring their own small set of favorite tools—and share as needed. The bond among repair volunteers has grown very strong.


Last month, we took a quick look at a few Repair Cafes around the country and the world. Repair Cafes are a trend that started in Amsterdam, became present around Europe, and have gradually been catching on in cities around the world. They encourage local residents to bring their broken items to an event to be fixed. It is not a drop-off service, so participants tend to learn something while a volunteer fixes their item, making new acquaintances in the meantime. To get a closer look, Machine Design talked to John Wackman, a Repair Café founder in the Hudson Valley of Upstate New York, to ask how the centers are affecting his community. 

2. The Dolls and Stuffed Animals worktable is a popular draw for families. Here an expert volunteer fixes the leg-to-hip connection on a child's doll. Note that there are 4 hands and 3 generations in this photo.


Wackman started the first Repair Café in the Hudson Valley in New Paltz, NY nearly four years ago. Within a year, he said the turnout settled at 50 to 60 people bringing one or two broken items to be repaired. It wasn’t long before volunteers in neighboring towns started organizing their own café sessions.  Now, with 8 registered cafes, the Hudson Valley has one of the largest concentrations of Repair Cafes in the U.S. They are hosted on a Saturday or Sunday every second or third month in New Paltz, Rhinebeck, Kingston, Gardiner, Poughkeepsie, Rosendale, Beacon, and Warwick in churches, local libraries, town halls, and community centers. The result is that you can find a Repair Café just about every weekend somewhere in the mid-Hudson Valley.

3. A volunteer fixes a bike at the Poughkeepsie Repair Cafe.


With a background in television, Wackman was used to the idea of bringing people of different skillsets together to create a working team, but he also consulted the “starter kit” offered by the Repair Café Foundation in Amsterdam (for a voluntary fee of 49 Euros, or about $52 currently) with logos, graphics and tips on how to organize a repair cafe in your community. “We think people respond to the concept of the repair café because it fills a need and is also creative and fun.” says Wackman. “A Repair Café provides a free community meeting place for people to bring beloved, but broken, items to be repaired for free.”

4. Teenagers flock to the Digital Table to fix, and learn how to fix, electronics at the Repair Café in New Paltz.


5. Do It Yourself Demonstrations are part of the experience at the New Paltz Repair Cafe. “How to Wire a Lamp” or How to Sew on a Button.”There are new volunteer-led lessons at most events.


He describes the mission statement, in part, as “acknowledging and honoring people who know how to fix things, and passing it on.” And since people are getting items repaired shoulder to shoulder, it becomes very social. Repair volunteers include people who do repairs professionally, and are more than happy to donate a few hours to engage with the community. Many volunteers are also retired, and others are hobbyists who are enthusiastic to simply share what they know. Repair categories range from mechanical, electrical and electronic, to clothes, textiles and jewelry, things made of wood, and bicycles. The events draw families too; there is a “hospital” for dolls and stuffed animals, and a supervised Take-Apart Area where kids can hunker down and learn by taking things apart—without having to put them back together. The digital table is usually full of teenagers taking a look at people’s laptops, tablets, and phones. In many cases, these electronics just need defragging, or file consolidation for improved speed and efficiency.

6. People often bring jewelry pieces with meaningful family history.

​Wackman encourages people to lead the initiative to start Repair Cafes in their area. “Repair Cafes might only start with a few volunteers who can fix a few items, but soon the word gets out, and you wind up building a whole community around what we like to call our ‘experiment in repair culture’.” To learn more about starting one in your area, visit Visit for more pictures and updates. 

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