What started as Eric Fair-Layman trying to maintain his home has turned into him trying to maintain his community. When Fair-Layman bought a home in Woodlawn, he wanted to start doing odd jobs around the house. "I always felt like that was missing," he said, "Some deep manly urge or something." Not wanting to shell out the money for tools, Fair-Layman stopped by the North Portland Tool Library, a volunteer-run venture which loans tools out to neighbors free of charge. But Fair-Layman's new house was just outside of what is technically North Portland. "No matter how I charmed them, I couldn't get in," he said. So in March, he decided to start one in his own neighborhood. After months of planning, the official Northeast Portland Tool Library is set to open August 16th.
The library's not just about helping people fulfill manly tool urges on the cheap. It's an example of the Northeast's new additions using individual enterprise to help the community combat gentrification. "People like me are pushing people out," admits Fair-Layman, who's raising his two kids in his new Woodlawn house while commuting to work as a teacher in Hillsboro, "This is a way to meet some of the old school [people] as well as help some of them stay, hopefully." It's expensive to buy the tools needed to keep homes in good shape, so when families are on tight budgets, their homes can fall into disrepair. The tool library will be free to use and open to anyone who lives in Northeast. "Everyone wants to use this," says Fair-Layman.
There are only a handful of tool libraries in the country and the big ones have a team of employees and federal grants. Fair-Layman had $700 in donations and a dozen regular volunteers. His friends were surprised that he would pursue the idea - he's seen TOOL in concert several times, but never been known for repair work. "They said, 'What is this, a music sharing thing?'" laughed Fair-Layman.
The library is a small garage turned tool shed in the corner of a church parking lot on 20th and Killingsworth. Since all the tools are donated, it's a small and ecclectic mix so far: 32 vices lay on volunteer-built shelves, a big table saw dominates the center of the shed and against the wall are a collection of old shovels.
The North Portland Tool Library has built up a cache of 500 tools since it opened four years ago. In Northeast, there's fewer tools but lots of enthusiasm. On Saturday afternoon, as Fair-Layman greeted the occasional neighbor drawn in by the "Tool Library Open" sign on the edge of the church parking lot, the conversation swirled with giddy ideas. "You should email the permaculture people!" said a woman who came by hoping to check out gutter cleaners but, put off till the 16th, wound up offering to donate some yellow jacket traps, "And have you contacted the carpenters' union?"
"We need a lot right now," explained Fair-Layman, "We want to outgrow the space."