Bottom dollared: Who can fix my chair?

By Sarah Wolpow

Who can fix my chair?

My light, aluminum beach chair, with the wooden armrests, and canvas seat. My chair that, with a loud rip from its striped bottom, plopped me down on the sand in a rather undignified way one hot day last summer.

Through the long winter, my chair sat in the hallway, broken and disapproving.

Sometimes it scolded, “Throw me out, you idiot! It’s too expensive to have me fixed.”

Other times it would say, “Fix me, you dimwit. My sturdy frame is fine. Are you going to landfill me because you can’t replace a simple piece of fabric? Do you have any idea how much energy it takes to make aluminum?”

Well, I didn’t; so I checked. Manufacturing aluminum in the Pacific Northwest uses more electricity annually than the cities of Seattle and Portland Oregon combined. More land surface is destroyed mining bauxite– the primary ore from which aluminum is extracted– than mining virtually any other ore.

I did not want to landfill my chair. I wanted to honor it. By fixing my chair, I would honor the tree that was felled for the armrests, the wildlife whose habitat was blasted to mine the bauxite, the fish whose rivers were dammed to power the ore processors, and the child-laborer who stitched on the canvas.

Maybe I should just sit on a blanket, I thought. No, I like my chair, and I will make my stand on the side of fixing it. It defies common sense to throw it away.

It also defies common sense that it should cost less to buy a new chair than to fix the old one. The reasons are complicated; but, simply put, the prices we pay for products don’t reflect the true costs of making them.

The goods we buy would be far more expensive if their price tags included repairing the strip-mined land, cleaning up the degraded rivers and oceans, treating the asthmas caused by air pollution, and turning back the devastating effects of climate change.

Okay, okay, I said to my chair. Let me see what I can do.

But after all that, my chair did not cooperate. It was designed to be discarded. The frame could not be disassembled. To fix it, you must cut off the remnants and hand-stitch the new fabric in place with the whole chair gangling about in your lap.

I can’t fix it, I concluded. I don’t know which thread to use. I don’t have the right needles. So, I asked, who can fix my chair?

Not us, said the children. You haven’t taught us how to sew, and we are too busy with homework and sports.

Not I, said the husband. You’re much better at sewing.

Not I, said the sister. Unless you want to mail it to Illinois.

Not I, said the father. I’m not a tailor.

Not I, said the seamstress. It will be too expensive. (What she really meant is that it defies common sense to spend more money to fix something than it would cost to replace.)

Who can fix my chair?

I can fix it, said the mother, who grew up on a farm, who sewed before she could read, who makes her own clothes. You come wash my windows, and I will fix your chair.

So I will not have to buy a new chair after all.

The price of new goods is steadily rising as the costs of energy soar and the costs to the earth and to our health of making throwaway things becomes ever more apparent. Soon, it will again be cost-effective to fix things. It will make sense to everyone. Fortunately, the people who know how to do it are still around. They are your parents, your grandparents, your elderly neighbors.

Enjoy the smiles on their faces when you ask them to show you how.
Author Sarah Wolpow, who lives in the Maine town of Brunswick, writes a regular environmental column for the Maine Times Record. This essay was distributed by Blue Ridge Press.


This message really speaks to me...I really should be making similar decisions...there's too much of everything and everything is taken for granted...

forget about a chair.What about shoe repair in this town?There are only 2 shoe repair businesses in the C-ville area,and they are terrible.Any ideas?

I have an electric fan that has sat in the corner of my office . . . glowering at me for years. I cannot find a small appliance repair person . . . every couple of months I try to take it apart to see what I can do . . . ha! I hate to throw it away. . . . what to do? Enjoyed the perspective of your essay. Thanks.

I disagree with @Bob. I can only speak to the shoe repair place that I use, but the quality of the work there has always been excellent from my point of view. I have lived in this area on and off since 1975 and have never had a problem with the shoe repair shop at the shopping center where Giant is located. In fact, I am wearing today shoes that I bought in 1972 in Williamsburg, VA. They have had several sets of soles and heels and continue to be in great shape. We need to find young people who want to work in the shoe repair business. With the unemployment rate where it is, seems to me that folks looking for work would be looking at trades.

America needs a chain of Emmets Fix It Shop.

Imelda@glad they could take care of your dainty shoes.I speak from experience that neither shoe repair shop(Hydraulic or Seminole Sq.)is any account on work boots.With this many people in the area,there should be more such businesses.

Try Cobblers Bench Shoe Repair. There's one in Manassas.

I think the trend away from designed-for-disposal products is good for us in many ways. In Waynesboro, I ran into problems finding a good small-engine repair shop, and ended up learning to do it myself.

For an excellent shop that does a lot of AT hiker boot repair, check out Graham's Shoe Service on Arch Ave. on Waynesboro's east side. I shuttle a lot of hikers down the mountain and they are often looking to get things repaired, from packs to tents to boots, and Graham's seems to make them all happy.

Learn how to repair your own stuff. Its not that hard. I've been teaching my kids to do it and they enjoy fixing their own toys.

All hail duct tape and superglue!

The wonderful shoe repair business near Ceci's Pizza is gone!! I thought that guy was great. So I went to the other one. The shoe strap broke again the same day I picked them up...... So glad to get a recommendation in Waynesboro.

I needed a little bit of stitching done to a work boot.What the business on Hydraulic Rd. used for this stitching was ordinary fabric thread.So the "repair" lasted about as long as yours,Jaycee.