When Sam Yaffe last checked, Baltimore wasn't home to a belt-buckle repair store. Which explains why he was happy to make the trek down from Monkton for Saturday’s first Baltimore Fixit Fair.
“I’ve been looking to get this thing fixed forever,” said Yaffe, holding an oval piece of metal with a piece soldered onto the back where the belt slides through. One of the holes drilled into that piece had worn away, preventing a metal clip from being attached securely to the buckle, thus rendering the whole thing useless, at least when it comes to holding up his pants.
Yaffe, 73, was the perfect guy for the fair, Charm City’s version of what are essentially small-scale repair jamborees that began in Europe and have spread to this country in recent years. The gathering, held at the Station North Tool Library in Greenmount West, offered the chance for people who have broken stuff to get it fixed for free — and maybe pick up a few skills at the same time, so they can repair the next torn shirt or disabled bike or stuck wind-up clock themselves.
“We’re definitely trying to encourage people, instead of supporting a culture that gets rid of things when they just may need a small repair, to fix it,” said Piper Watson, co-founder (with her husband, John Shea) of the tool library, where, for a small annual fee, members can take advantage of shared tools and know-how in keeping their belongings in good repair.
“We’re kind of looking to empower people,” Watson said. “You know, this stuff isn’t rocket science.”
Perhaps not, but for people taking advantage of Saturday’s opportunity — by afternoon’s end, about 50 people had shown up — it was no less wondrous.
Lindsey Long brought in a vacuum cleaner that stopped working a couple months ago. As the owner of two cats, it’s pretty much essential equipment.
“I grew up with my dad being a very handy person, but he lives in Illinois, so he’s not here to fix things,” said Long, 31, who had traveled from Lochearn to see if one of the dozen tool center volunteers working the fair could get the vacuum working again. “I would have had to wait until Thanksgiving, and then it would have been messy when my parents came, so my mom would have judged me.”
Happily, James Ma, 32, an engineer living in Bolton Hill, was on hand to ensure that wouldn’t happen. It turned out that the vacuum was just clogged.
Long left a satisfied vacuum owner, at least until she gets home. “The true test will come later today,” she said.
Ma, who’s been coming to the tool library for about two years, had a tougher time reviving a portable cassette player that Hayden Wright had brought in. He poked and prodded, established that some nonconnection somewhere was keeping the sound from coming out, but wasn’t finding any easy answers as to just where that connection was.
Wright, a 23-year-old Texas transplant about to begin classes at the Maryland Institute College of Art, appreciated Ma’s persistence. At least the cassette player was a gift, so he wouldn’t be out any money if it couldn’t be repaired. But he was no more ready to give up hope than Ma.
“I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with it, so I figured this would be the perfect opportunity,” Wright said.
Sadly, Wright’s cassette player proved to be a terminal case. “They determined it was totaled,” he said later, after the fair had closed for the day. “They said that I would be better off starting from scratch.”
Yaffe, however, left the fair happy, thanks to Michael Campola, 35*, an electrical engineer who works at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center when he’s not exploring new frontiers of belt-buckle repair.
By the time Yaffe left the fair, his buckle was working as well as it did when he bought it, at a Native American festival held at the Inner Harbor some 40 years ago.
“I bought a lot of other buckles to replace it, but they never rang the bell, you know?” said Yaffe, the buckle back in its proper place at his waist. “It’s nice to have it back.”
An earlier version of this story listen an incorrect age for Michael Campola.