BUFFALO, N.Y. — If you've ever done a home improvement project, you know it can get pretty expensive pretty quickly, especially if you need specialized tools or equipment.
And what do you do with the tools you're only going to use once?
Those are things Darren Cotton thought about when he started the Tool Library in Buffalo's University District back in 2011. At the time, he was a University at Buffalo graduate student and living off campus and trying to fix up his apartment on a limited budget.
"With the sharing economy, the goal really is to give people access to things that they might not otherwise be able to afford," said Cotton, president and founder of the Tool Library.
He started the Tool Library with just a few dozen tools and a handful of members.
"With fewer tools, people had a harder time understanding the value of the Tool Library. They would walk in and not really understand what the concept was or how they might be able to benefit from it," said Cotton.
Today, the Tool Library has grown into a community of 600 members, and they have more than 3,500 tools and pieces of equipment to choose from — from hammers and screwdrivers to power washers and lawnmowers.
The $20 annual membership allows you to borrow five tools for a week at a time.
There are also volunteers who have backgrounds in construction or who previously worked at home improvement stores to lend their expertise.
"The community really is so diverse. People of all ages, abilities, and walks of life are coming in here and really just appreciating the concept but also the community that the tool library has helped create," said Cotton.
Cotton estimates the Tool Library has saved members almost $150,000 so far in 2020. The library is now open to people of all eight counties of Western New York (previously it was just Erie and Niagara counties).
"We live in this sort of fast fashion, Amazon world where our first instinct is to buy something or just pay someone else to do it. We want to recapture that culture of fixing and making and doing it yourself," said Cotton.
The Tool Library holds community events called Dare to Repair Cafe, where you can bring in broken items like lamps, small electronics, or toys and volunteers will fix them for free. They also do community service projects in various communities in Buffalo. (The events are currently on hold due to COVID-19 restrictions on public gatherings. The Tool Library hopes to bring them back in the future.)
The Tool Library has also started a "tool raiser" campaign." Think of it as a fundraiser, but where you buy or donate a tool to add to the library's collection. You can also make a monetary donation.
The Tool Library is closed through November 30. They posted the following message on their website:
We have made the difficult decision to extend our closing to November 30th in response to rising COVID-19 numbers and the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday.
In the coming weeks, we will be hard at work with our volunteers and board developing a re-opening plan that focuses on the safety and well-being of all in our Tool Library community.
Thank you to everyone for your support and well wishes to our volunteers. We look forward to being able to borrow and build with you soon!