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Repair Lair gives new life to used outdoor apparel, gear

The south Minneapolis shop on East Lake Street specializes in repairing outdoor apparel and gear.

MINNEAPOLIS, Minnesota — Inside Repair Lair in south Minneapolis, owner Nancy Ford is talking to a potential customer who needs a coat mended. 

During the conversation, the man mentions he wants to get it fixed so he can then get the coat dry-cleaned. 

Ford then refers him to another business down the street that does both coat repair and cleaning, saying, "They'll do both these things at the same time. So it'll save you the trouble of having to come get it here and then take it over there." 

Ford says she refers people to other shops "all the time," even dozens of times a day. Sometimes it's because she can't do a repair but she knows someone else who can; other times, Ford finds a better fit to work on the problem. 

"That's the way it should be. I think the consumer should come first. We talk people out of buying stuff here all the time," Ford said. 

The goal is to avoid buyer's remorse, which can often lead to items ending up in the landfill. 

Credit: Heidi Wigdahl
Repair Lair is located at 3304 E Lake St. in Minneapolis.

Ford opened Repair Lair eight years ago after spending about 15 years working at an outdoor retail shop.

"It got frustrating having to sell really expensive camping equipment to people that... they might only be doing one trip," Ford recalled. 

Chris Thompson of northeast Minneapolis came into Repair Lair on Wednesday afternoon after his coat wouldn't zip up. 

"I called Midwest Mountaineering; they immediately said to come over here," Thompson said. 

Instead of replacing the full zipper, Ford was able to replace the zipper slider on the spot. 

"Zipper slides are made out of zinc; they wear out faster than the zipper does," Ford explained to Thompson. 

Credit: Heidi Wigdahl
Nancy Ford, owner of Repair Lair.

Ford said there aren't many stores in the United States that have repair and secondhand sales under the same roof. 

"It's a variety of different skills that are required to run a store like this and also it's incredibly labor intensive and there's no way to scale it," Ford said. 

The store has an open floor plan; from the retail side, you can see employees mending items on the sewing machines.

"When I first opened up, I was the only person that was working and I needed to be able to see customers," Ford said. "But also that was where the power was located. So all those things kind of dictated the layout of the store." 

Credit: Heidi Wigdahl
Repair Lair also sells secondhand clothing and gear for the outdoors.

But it also means they spend a lot of time talking to customers about problems with their gear or clothing. 

"That's why most outdoor gear shops in the United States, you can't walk in and talk to the repair people. You either drop it off at an outdoor store or you mail it to the business. You don't come walking in and talk to the repair people because, once again, it's not cost-effective to be operating like that but that's what we do," said Ford, laughing. "It's not the most attractive business model for most people but we've been here for eight years and we're a part of the community and people appreciate that we're here and so we forge on."

Repair Lair
3304 E. Lake Street
Minneapolis, MN 55406

Open Wednesday-Sunday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. 

Know a local business we should feature for our Behind the Business segment? Email Heidi Wigdahl at hwigdahl@kare11.com. 

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