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Repair work has merit in midst of throwaway society

July 06, 2008|By KATE COLEMAN

Wayne Mullendore saved my life.

OK. I guess I'm being a little melodramatic when I say that, but it's no exaggeration that the man who answered the phone at Small Appliance Repair on a recent Saturday morning saved my day.

Let me explain.

I drink one 12-ounce cup of coffee every day.

Just one. That's all. No sugar. No cream. Just coffee.

But I need that cup of coffee. I do nothing, talk to no one before I drink the strong, brown brew.

I have an electric drip coffee maker. Making my coffee is the first thing I do when I get downstairs each morning.

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On that ill-fated Saturday, as I took the brew basket from the dish drainer in the sink, a little springie-thingie at the bottom got caught and came off.

I tried to put it back on.

I couldn't.

Oh noooo!

I went to the phone book, and with trembling hands, found the listing for Small Appliance Repair.

I asked the soft-voiced gentleman who answered the phone if he sells replacement baskets for my coffee maker.

He does not. He must have heard the desperation in my voice, because he kindly asked me what happened to the one I have.

I explained, and although he prefaced his advice with the caveat that he couldn't be sure without seeing it, he figured my machine was the type that still would work without the little springie-thingie.

Worth a try. Save me a trip to the closest drive-thru - in my pajamas.

Yessss!

Salvation on Saturday morning.

I drank my coffee and called back to thank him. He - Wayne Mullendore - laughed and said I sounded like his coffee-loving wife.

Mullendore's remote repair saved me some money and provided some reassurance that I'm not a total dinosaur. There are other people who believe that things can be fixed, and there are people who can actually fix them.

The numbers are dwindling. In today's marketplace, it's often cheaper to throw a broken thing out and just buy a new one.

In a public radio show last fall, I heard the host of "Marketplace Money," wonder when fixing things got more expensive than buying a new version. She related a personal story of having a DVD player go "on the fritz." She looked into having it repaired, but it cost less to buy a new one.

I know this happens. My friends Sally and Tom have a digital camera with a broken clasp. It would have to be sent away and did they really want to spend money on a camera that's already a few years old?

Their solution? A rubber band. Low-tech and funky, yes, but the camera works and it captured wonderful pictures of our trip to Ireland last summer.

I'm a child of children of the Great Depression.

I inherited my parents' frugality. I've been called cheap, but there's more to it: I just can't see buying something new if the old one is fixable.

On that aforementioned radio program, a Harvard Business School marketing professor called ours a "throwaway society." If people have to go out of their way to have something repaired, they probably won't, he said.

Although many products become throwaways when they malfunction, some are worth fixing, and Wayne Mullendore can fix some of them. His is one of two Maryland service centers certified by a national manufacturer of countertop appliances. People have come from Baltimore to have him do repairs.

Small Appliance Repair will celebrate its 50th anniversary next year. Wayne Mullendore grew up working with his father, also Wayne Mullendore, who bought the business in 1959.

I'm happy to know it's there.

When I picked up my repaired vacuum cleaner last week, I got some advice from Cathy Mullendore, Wayne's wife: Have another coffee maker in reserve.

I think I'll get a French press. Fewer parts to pull off in the dish drainer.

Kate Coleman writes a monthly Lifestyle column for The Herald-Mail. She can be reached at katec@herald-mail.com.

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