Twilight of the Turkish Repairman

faded repair shop sign photo

Repair shops are already scarce in the United States. Are they now dying out in Turkey too?

When my friend Kelly said she was taking her broken TV to the "television hospital," I laughed. But she wasn't kidding. Her Istanbul neighborhood is full of TV repair shops called just that.

One of the things I love about Turkey is how readily, and cheaply, it seems you can get almost anything repaired. But just as Americans and Europeans are starting to (re-)warm to the idea of fixing things up, the spread of throwaway culture to Turkey is threatening repairmen's livelihoods.
The Dutch design group Platform 21 recently issued a "Repair Manifesto" calling on designers and consumers to "break the chain of our throwaway thinking" by designing and buying products that can be repaired, rather than discarded. "Repairing is not anti-consumption. It is anti- needlessly throwing things away," the manifesto proclaims, adding, "Every time we repair something, we add to its potential, its history, its soul and its inherent beauty."

In its mission statement for the project, Platform 21 refers to repairing as "a mentality, culture and practice that not so long ago was completely integrated in life and the way we designed it." Though that mentality has largely faded into the past in the United States (and, presumably, in the Netherlands), the small streets of Istanbul are full of people who can fix the busted toe of your boot, mend a thrashed messenger bag, and tinker your electronics and appliances back to health.

But the local newspaper Today's Zaman reports that small repair shops are closing down, warning that the "revered Turkish profession of repair work... is about to disappear." The culprits are the same as they are anywhere else: ever-cheaper products on the market and a mentality that favors replacement over repair.

[C]ustomers now choose to buy new electronic appliances rather than paying to fix their old ones. This is so much the case in fact that electronic repair work has become a sector of retirees looking for ways to fill their time. With screwdrivers, control pens and hammers in hand, these repair experts long for the old days, when their profession was much sought after. Now repairmen can barely make enough money to support their families, and generally try to move into other sectors to make a living.

An organization of Turkish radio and television repairmen that has seen its numbers drop by 75 percent is trying to encourage members to learn to fix newer technologies like alarm-security systems, but with little success. They may have the same fatalistic feeling as İsmail Boran, a shoe repairman interviewed for the article who says he expects his business to dry up completely. 'When people buy shoes for TL 10 [about $6], they really don’t feel the need to repair them," he told the paper. "They just spend a little bit more and actually get a new pair."

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Twilight of the Turkish Repairman
When my friend Kelly said she was taking her broken TV to the "television hospital," I laughed. But she wasn't kidding. Her Istanbul neighborhood is full of TV

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