Old-school repair shops keep stuff working longer


The more stuff you own, the more likely you are to encounter something that suddenly no longer does what it’s supposed to do. After venting your frustration, you’ve got a choice: repair it, throw it out and buy a new one, or decide you’re better off without it. Some Philly people who fix things for a living want you to choose repair, though not in all circumstances or for all products.

Anh Mach owns Anh Custom Tailors, where for over 25 years she has been altering and designing clothing for women and men. Mach first learned to sew in her home country of Vietnam. After moving to Philadelphia, she worked in a clothing factory and a tailor shop to refine her skills. Although the pandemic nearly crushed her business, Mach says customers are returning, often with requests to update an item they already own. Her younger customers are asking for style alterations, like modifying a dress from short sleeves to sleeveless. Although she feels the quality of material has declined over time, Mach is happy to help her customers refresh their wardrobe rather than replacing it. But what gives her the most satisfaction is designing and sewing unique pieces made from high-quality fabric created to last.

Anh Mach can repair what you wear. Photography by Chris Baker Evens.

Joe Robinson’s fledgling Roxborough business, Joe’s Guitar Repair, is a passion project. “As soon as I picked up the guitar I was interested in how it worked,” he recalls. A graduate of the Eastern School of Fretted Instrument Repair in Freehold, NJ, Robinson loves to repair “guitars, basses, banjos, ukuleles, whatever has strings and a fretboard. This is all I want to do.” Even so, he sometimes advises people that the cost of repair isn’t justified for the flea market acoustic guitar that cost $30 but will need $200 worth of repairs. It’s not about the age of an instrument; it’s about the original quality of craftsmanship and materials. He’ll make an exception, though, when an instrument has sentimental value for a customer. As for a DIY approach, Robinson knows there are lots of tutorials online, but if you don’t have an understanding of basic tools he doesn’t advise working on your own stuff, cautioning that “you can do a lot more damage.”

We try to encourage people to fix their broken stuff, but we warn them: there’s a lot of information on the internet, but it’s not always the best advice.”

— Jesus Bautista, Fairmount Hardware

Philadelphia Bikesmith co-owner Max Hamalainen became a bicycle technician because as a kid he fell in love with the freedom and enjoyment of cycling. At age 14 he got his first job in a bike shop, and though he earned a college degree in mathematics, after graduation he “went straight back to bikes.” At Philadelphia Bikesmith, most of the repair work is fixing flats and replacing tires. While these might seem like simple repairs, increasingly sophisticated bike design has led even experienced cyclists to rely on professional mechanics. “We are seeing fewer people who want to tinker with their bikes. Their free time is more valuable than the time they’d spend fixing it,” Hamalainen explains. Another big change is the electric bike market. Hamalainen cautions against buying “the cheap e-bikes” that have flooded the market for as little as $800. With inferior batteries and poor safety features, he says, “these are throwaway products” and the repairs costs would not be worth it.

Fairmount Hardware store manager Jesus Bautista was happy to talk about the repair services they provide. People bring in broken lamps, windows and screen doors that need fixing, “usually because a neighbor told them we can help,” he says. Bautista sees the DIYers who tried to fix something after watching a YouTube video, only to make things worse. “We try to encourage people to fix their broken stuff, but we warn them: there’s a lot of information on the internet, but it’s not always the best advice. We love it when people take initiative. Buying replacement parts and figuring out how to repair something can save you lots of money. But if you don’t know what you’re doing, taking it to a repair shop ultimately saves you money and hassle.”

Besides saving time and money and keeping non-biodegradable items out of landfills, there’s another reason to choose repairs. Typically repair shops are small businesses with local owners; they employ local workers, provide everyday services to their communities and enliven neighborhoods. A 2020 Pew report revealed that among the 12 cities studied, Philadelphia had the fewest small and midsize business establishments per capita. Fewer than 6% of Philadelphia adults identified as self-employed business owners. The study notes: “This relatively low figure — not uncommon for a city with a high poverty rate — translated into less small-scale business activity and thinner ranks of individuals and families starting businesses, building wealth and planting the seeds of entrepreneurship.”

As a way to help Philadelphia prosper, maybe it’s time we add another “R” to the sustainability mantra: “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Repair.”

Repair Directory

Anh Custom Tailors ➽ 267-255-0593,
771 S. 4th St., instagram.com/anh_tailor

Joe’s Guitar Repair ➽ 267-994-0663,
text to contact

Philadelphia Bikesmith ➽ 267-324-5910,
1822 Spring Garden, philadelphiabikesmith.com

Fairmount Hardware ➽ 215-765-5829,
2011 Fairmount Ave.


  1. I am trying to find someone who can repair my battery-powered lawnmower. I have had it for a few years. I replaced the battery once, that kept it going. It stopped working again, I got another new battery, but the mower still does not start. All of the “lawnmower repair” businesses in my area service gas-powered mowers only! The repair ecosystem hasn’t adapted to the newer technology.

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