Filled with drills and workbenches, a new kind of library is setting up shop in Minneapolis.
Nestled underneath galleries and a coffee shop, a tool lending operation is opening Saturday in the basement of a northeast artist complex. Residents will be able to borrow donated items, such as hedge trimmers or power saws, for handiwork at home.
The Northeast Minneapolis Tool Library is the latest in a series of similar resident-to-resident sharing outfits that have popped up around the country in recent years as part of a growing effort to reduce waste, cut costs and bring aspiring craftsmen together.
“We can show people how to minimize their impact on our environment,” said Thomas Ebert, the nonprofit’s co-founder. “And at the same time, connect people in a way that we’ve lost over the last decades.”
The Twin Cities location, in the Thorp Building at 1618 Central Av. NE., is a prime spot for the operation to thrive, organizers say, considering the area’s focus on bettering the environment and a thriving do-it-yourself attitude.
And they say the northeast Minneapolis neighborhood, specifically, is a perfect fit, considering its latest migration of young people taking over some of the area’s old properties in need of repair.
For $55 a year, members will have access to the library’s full chest of household tools, ranging from ladders to drain snakes. They’ll face fines for not complying with return dates and have discounted rates for lessons in areas such as woodworking.
“A lot of people don’t have the knowledge, ability or confidence to safely use tools, although they would like to be able to take on projects, like a raised garden bed,” co-founder Zach Wefel said.
About 60 tool libraries have opened across the country, mostly on the West Coast. The concept began in Columbus, Ohio, nearly four decades ago.
“It’s not a novel idea or a new one; it just really has hit its time with people’s interest in do-it-yourself and sharing over ownership,” said Julie Smith, director of the Ohio tool library.
Minneapolis neighborhood groups have hosted temporary programs in the past, and a handful of tool shops in the state offer similar services. But none has maintained a permanent stint until the new northeast library.
Ebert moved to Minneapolis after living in Portland — a hot spot for tool sharing operations — about two years ago, and shortly after, teamed up with Wefel to drum up support for opening a local chapter.
“It was kind of a surprise to me that there wasn’t one in Minneapolis yet, especially considering all the crunchy, hippie, proactive, progressive communities that we have throughout the Twin Cities,” Ebert said.
Through their work with the Windom Park Citizens in Action neighborhood group, the pair worked to convince their colleagues that the idea was worthwhile, and persuaded the group to set aside $35,000 to get it off the ground.
Manager Gayle Bonneville said the group’s goal of improving the neighborhood’s overall aesthetic begins with fixing any “ratty” houses. So with easier access to tools, the belief is that residents will be more inclined to make repairs.
“Fix-ups make it a more livable area — less eye sores,” Bonneville said.
Sarah Steiner started a similar tool library a few weeks ago in a Denver neighborhood that, with its many artist lofts and historic buildings, closely resembles the character of northeast Minneapolis.
She said membership rates have surged since the opening, and she expects more local DIY-ers to join in the coming weeks as the gardening season peaks.
The libraries’ benefits extend far beyond simply cutting costs and waste, Steiner said, and begin from the moment borrowers step into the shop and see the extensive tool collection.
“It’s that kids-on-Christmas-morning look,” she said, “you can see the projects rolling through their heads.”
Jessica Lee is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.