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ELKVILLE — The art of fixing things isn’t dying, but it is changing.

And there’s no easy answer why.

“Nobody fixes anything at home anymore,” Doug Leggans said as he assembled a new lawnmower Thursday at Ralph’s Small Engine in Elkville. Leggans said when he grew up — and even today — he was tinkering with things as much as he could. He often found himself under the hood of a car. While some of it is generational, Leggans said said some of it is on the manufacturer's, too.

“It’s a lot cheaper to throw it away and buy a new one,” he said of some products that in days gone by were easy to work on.

Sue Estes said this isn’t only true in electronics and small engines — the same can be said for clothes. Years ago, she said, it was reasonable that someone could save money making clothes of their own. This isn't so much the case anymore. 

Estes said blue jeans are a good example. The cost of the fabric and then the time involed in making a pair of jeans just isn't as economical as it used to be. 

Estes said she has been working with fabric and thread since before she was even in school. She would do seamstress work for her grandmother and eventually saved enough to buy a sewing machine of her own. She now owns the one only sewing business — Sew-A-Lot at 215 W. Walnut St. — in Carbondale that takes regular work. She said some dry cleaners will occasionally do it, but she’s the only storefront.

Estes said even clothes can be harder to work on now. Factories build garments in a way now that Estes said can be hard to take apart and put back together.

That said, she said not everyone, at least in her line of work, is of the opinion that when something gets a hole, it gets tossed. And the divide has nothing to do with age.

“I’ve got just as many younger people as I do older people,” she said of her customer base.

She said some people do throw out a pair of pants at the sign of the first hole, but not everyone.

“Some come in with their favorite jeans and ask, ‘What can you do,’” she said.

Even still, she said she is often shocked at how many people anymore lack simple fix-it skills.

“I can’t believe people don’t know how to sew on buttons,” she said.

Brett Barton has been working at Marion’s Appliance Wizard for about five days as a repair technician. He served about five years in the Air Force and is trained in HVAC systems, so he said he at least understands the basics of how to fix appliances.

Barton, 29, said people love to blame his generation for not wanting to get their hands dirty and just tossing out things when they get old.

But, he said it’s not that simple, though. He said some things, like appliances and small electronics, come with more features — and with that comes a more complex construction.

“The more complicated you make something, the more chances you have of something breaking,” he said.

Barton said that complicated doesn’t mean something isn’t possible to fix.

“It’s not that being hard to fix means it’s unfixable,” he said.

Like Leggans, he said sometimes it’s a matter of money and added that sometimes it’s no bad thing to buy something off the rack.

“New is nice, too.”

Carol Conley-Leeman is the Appliance Wizard store manager and said she’s also not one to dump on younger generations. She said it’s great that some have found ways to capitalize on new trends, but she said that it’s still not easy to find workers for their repair shop. She said some of that comes from how younger people are raised.

“These kids … they have been told you be anything,” she said, adding that the answer to this is very often pitched as a four-year degree. Conley-Leeman said this just isn’t always the right fit for some kids.

This point was illustrated about four years ago, Conley-Leeman said, after Appliance Wizard owners Carl and Patti Orlovich advertised a scholarship for a high school graduate to come and learn the appliance repair trade — they would have sent the applicant to Fred's Appliance Academy in Ohio.

She said they didn’t get the turnout they wanted. They couldn’t figure out if the word just hadn’t gotten out or if there really was no interest. Either way it was discouraging, she said.

Leggans said he sees the lack of young blood coming into the trades as an emergency.

Before leaving Rend Lake College as dean of applied sciences and technology, Chris Nielsen spoke in an interview with The Southern on the continued importance of trade programs and skilled laborers — he said there will always be a need and training in these skills should be considered as an equally good opportunity as a four-year degree for some.

“Everybody’s different. There’s some people that belong at the University of Illinois or Northwestern,” Nielsen said. “We also have to have the people who keep things running.”

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isaac.smith@thesouthern.com

618-351-5823

On Twitter: @ismithreports

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Isaac Smith is a reporter covering Jackson County.

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