Tacony: Tool Library Launches, Offering Affordable Access to Home Improvement

A DeWalt 7730 Radial Arm saw, a part of the tool library’s collection. Miles Wall/PN

Philadelphia DIYers looking to avoid paying full-price for tools have a new option in the city: the Tacony Tool Library, a project of the nonprofit Philadelphia Community Corps launched on July 1.

Tool libraries, like public libraries that allow members to borrow books, allow members to borrow equipment for home repairs and projects. At the Tacony Tool Library, up to eight tools, ranging from heavy table saws to various wrenches, can be borrowed for up to a week — provided someone has a membership.

Greg Trainor, the founder and executive director of the Philadelphia Community Corps, described the tool library as a part of a nationwide “sharing economy” movement.

“It’s about efficiency,” Trainor said, emphasizing that in his view, most people only need a given tool temporarily. “The rest of the time, if these tools are available in a tool library, other people can be using them, and it can be a community resource.”

Membership to the library is either $9 per month or a pay-what-you-can annual fee. Trainor hopes this will limit the barrier-to-entry for financially struggling Philadelphians.

Signing up for the library, browsing its inventory, and borrowing tools can all be done online, but tools will still need to be picked up in-person inside the Community Corps’ warehouse store, Philly Reclaim.

Greg Trainor, executive director of the Philadelphia Community Corps, stands in the tool library on July 6. Miles Wall/PN

Erika Chaney, who was born and raised in the area and currently lives in Bridesburg, said she planned to join the tool library as soon as she received her next paycheck.

“I live in a 90-plus-year-old house, so I’m constantly having to make repairs,” Chaney said. “I was excited to see there was a place within my own neighborhood that I could ride my bike to, see what they have, grab what I need, and not have to spend a ridiculous amount.”

In addition to housing the tool library, Philly Reclaim also serves as a salvage and secondhand hardware store, cheaply reselling materials donated to the organization or salvaged from buildings slated for demolition.

That allowed it to remain open during the COVID-19 lockdown orders issued by Gov. Tom Wolf, which carved out exceptions for businesses selling building materials. Trainor hopes the same exception would apply to any future lockdown order.

“I think a lot of people right now wouldn’t want to start a new business or launch a new program,” Trainor said. “But I think the biggest part of entrepreneurship is being able to adapt, and we’re in an adapt-or-die situation right now where you’ve just gotta figure out how to make it work, because this isn’t gonna end this summer.”

Trainor has some reason to believe the new project can weather the ongoing economic crisis. Research from the Home Improvement Research Institute, a nonprofit dedicated to studying the industry, found the percentage of Americans starting new home improvement projects increased from 60% to 72% between March 23 and June 1, a period covering most of the pandemic lockdown.

Much of that increase, the Institute concluded, was creditable to members of the Millennial and Gen X generations and driven by the significant increase in the amount of time working-age Americans and their families are spending at home.

“If you’re just sitting at home still, and you want to do some little home improvement projects, this library is the perfect resource for you.” said Jasmyn Brown, an intern at the Philadelphia Community Corps. “Hopefully, the word spreads quickly. But I think that’ll happen pretty naturally.”

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