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Gowanus Fixers Collective Uses Group Elbow Grease to Mend Broken Things

By Leslie Albrecht | September 19, 2012 1:47pm

GOWANUS — Don't throw out that broken record player gathering dust on a shelf — the Fixers Collective could save it from a date with the Dumpster.

The Fixers Collective, a group of amateur tinkerers, will hold its monthly "fixing session" on Thursday night at Proteus Gowanus, the arts space at 543 Union St.

For a $5 donation, the public is invited to bring in broken household items for repair. If the fix is simple enough, people who bring in broken items are taught how to make the repair themselves by "master fixers" who know their way around a soldering iron. For more skilled work, the master fixers will take over.

Since its inception in 2008, the Fixers Collective has tackled a variety of repair challenges, including amplifiers, lamps, sandals, a wooden fire truck toy whose ladder wouldn't extend, and even a stuffed reptile, according to the group's Facebook page.

"The only limitation is, it has to be able to fit through the door," said Tammy Pittman, the executive director of Proteus Gowanus and founder of the Fixers Collective.

Master fixer Vincent Lai, who specializes in broken plasma TVs and LED monitors, said people who learn how to fix their broken appliance or furniture walk away "elated."

"They're very thrilled," Lai said. "And they really look forward to using the items again when they leave. I think the end of a successful fix is a validation of their skills."

A complete repair isn't always possible, but grateful messages on the collective's Facebook page attest to a number of successful fixes. "Thanks for fixing my speakers and wifi card. It works great," said one. Another post described how the collective fixed two loose screws in a power saw and sent a smiling customer on her way.

Items that are beyond repair are sometimes transformed into usefulness again — a salad spinner was once turned into a lampshade, Pittman said.

The Fixers Collective's hands-on work has a high-minded goal. The group was born during the 2008 financial crisis, remembered Pittman, and its work took on new meaning during those uncertain months.

"It was sort of an exercise in self-empowermet," Pittman said. "Who knew what would happen next? But the thing was to handle what was in your immediate purview and fix it and be responsible for what you have. It was kind of therapeutic."

Since then, the service has remained popular because of the burgeoning do-it-yourself movement, Pittman said. She sees the Fixers Collective as a response against the "planned obsolescence" of cheaply made objects that people would rather throw away than repair.

"There's a different kind of price to pay when you do that," Pittman said. "You throw it in a landfill — it doesn't just disappear. This idea that we live in a throw-away culture has had consequences. If people learned to fix things we wouldn't be polluting our environment to such an extent."

The Fixers Collective meets the third Thursday of every month at 7 p.m. Proteus Gowanus.