- Associated Press - Saturday, December 9, 2017

LYNCHBURG, Va. (AP) - It isn’t uncommon in today’s culture to find a hole in a pair of shoes, a snag in a sweater or a virus on a computer and just toss it and buy something new.

It’s no secret: As products have become cheaper, America has become a bit of a “throwaway society.”

“Things have gotten to where instead of people buying something new, it’s made to be thrown away,” Bedford County resident Darrell Byers said. “You get what you pay for.”

Byers said he has seen lawnmowers for sale for $79.99 each that are only made to last 50 hours before they are meant to be tossed and replaced.

Not everyone subscribes to the mindset of just having cheap disposable goods. From cobblers to tailors to computer repair shops, local businesses still do a steady trade in fixing what you already own.

Byers stopped by Cobbler’s Shop Inc., located in the bottom level of The Plaza on Memorial Avenue, to get a piece of raw leather to make the backing of a holster for his gun.

“This is only place around in Lynchburg that I can get something like this,” he said. “These types of places are a dying art.”

Phylis Hawkins, owner of the shoe-repair shop, said the business is family-run and has been in operation in Lynchburg for about 75 years.

She said there have been changes in society but she expects that with time.

Her customer list is still sky-high, and she has shoes lined up to be fixed until the end of December. Customers will wait, she said.

“We still get a lot of people. I’m pleased with a lot of people,” she laughed.

The shop fixes shoes, coats, purses, bags and dog leashes. It puts zippers on items, as well.

Many customers bring her items with sentimental value or that are irreplaceable, she said.

“There is a poorer quality in shoes now,” she said. “Everything is going on the cheaper end, but it’s being charged for more.”

In the past five years, she has seen more consumers throwing away their cheaper shoes just to go out and buy a new pair.

“We live in a throwaway society,” she said. “Maybe they bought something for 25 or 30 dollars, and if we say we’ll charge them for $15 to fix it, they sometimes don’t want to put that much into it, but some will.”

More often than not, Hawkins said, her shop can fix anything.

“There are still people who believe in saving things and making them last,” she said.

In the Boonsboro Shopping Center, Wayne Jackson, owner of Wayne’s Tailoring Shop, said his clients are those who care for their clothing and have trusted him for 42 years to tailor their items.

“You don’t go to Walmart and then come see me next year, you toss it,” he said.

Jackson said many of his most loyal customers are “dead and gone,” but he still finds that some young professionals who like to dress well still use his services.

“With the young professionals, that’s part of getting a job, is how you look,” he said.

Forty years ago, most of the tailoring was done in the household, Jackson said. Now, women are working and there are fewerpeople who sew at home or even know how to.

“I have seen more and more women tell me that they didn’t learn how to sew because their mother didn’t show them,” he said. “She decided to go out and work.”

Jackson echoed Hawkins’ comments about the quality of clothing decreasing in favor of cheaper items that don’t last as long.

“I used to work on $2,000 and $4,000 suits,” he said. “It’s very few guys still left who want to buy a quality suit that’s going to last for 25 years and pass it onto their sons.”

However, he sees men purchasing cheaper used suits and having no qualms paying for alterations.

“With anything, we don’t like to hold onto anything,” Jackson said. “I’m the opposite of that, I’m always saving anything. The younger generation, if it doesn’t fit, they get something new or buy it on the internet. There’s no thinking about using it later on, they toss it.”

Many of Jackson’s customers, like those who go to the Cobbler Shop, continue to patch up precious family heirlooms.

“You’d be surprised how many people are so close to this particular coat because it belonged to their father. I’m constantly hearing that,” he said. “All over the country, they are all sentimental when it comes to Grandpa. I get a lot of that.”

In September, Vector Space held a “repair café” to allow residents to drop off household items to be repaired by members.

The nonprofit in downtown Lynchburg is a place for people interested in science, technology, engineering, art and math to collaborate, invent, discover and build the things that interest them.

“Part of our mission and why we exist is to get people to understand the world around them,” said Elise Spontarelli, executive director of Vector Space. “Projects and workshops have that goal of getting people to understand how things work so they can fix things when they break or make something new.”

She agreed that items in every department are made cheaper and are easy to replace, so people don’t always take the time to learn how to use the tools to replace it.

“It becomes easier to throw things away and get new ones,” she said. “We are presented with a new model of phone every few months. The need to upgrade and keep up is very prevalent.”

She thinks it’s important for people to learn to do for themselves and to gain knowledge in handling that task.

“We want to empower people to know they can take control of the physical things around them and can treat them,” she said.

Colt Johnson, owner of Lynlinks Technologies on Forest Road, fixes “stupid computers,” as he likes to say.

His customers are usually not millennials or kids; they tend to be 50 and older.

“It’s usually the older crowd who is our clientele,” he said. “They might have a system that’s run on Windows 7 and they love Windows 7, so they get that fixed. If they buy a new computer, it will be a Windows 10,”he said, referring to the newest version of Microsoft’s computer operating system.

Business owners tend to get computers fixed if they have software on them that is crucial to the success and operation of the business.

“To get a new system would cost hundreds to thousands of dollars,” Johnson said. “Form follows function.”

Like others who repair things for a living, Johnson agreed that many products todayare not made as well as they were in the past. He just purchased a new washer and dryer that doesn’t last as long as his old one and was twice as expensive.

“The trend is to build cheaper products,” he said. “When you do that, the consumer tends to look at the price but don’t look at the fact that it may not last as long.”


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