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March 1, 2021

Episode #48: On Location at The Tool Library, Buffalo, New York

Episode #48: On Location at The Tool Library, Buffalo, New York

In this episode, Stacy and Bill from Enon Hall discuss momentum and maintaining enthusiasm for long-term projects. Later, Stacy is on location at The Tool Library in Buffalo, New York. The city of Buffalo is comprised of around 90% old house...


In this episode, Stacy and Bill from Enon Hall discuss momentum and maintaining enthusiasm for long-term projects.

Later, Stacy is on location at The Tool Library in Buffalo, New York. The city of Buffalo is comprised of around 90% old house inventory. Guests Darren and Maddie explain The Tool Library’s origins and how the sharing economy benefits renters, homeowners, and communities. 

Thank you to our Sponsor

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Mentioned in this Episode



































Stacy begins the episode thanking listeners for leaving new reviews on Apple Podcasts. All ratings and reviews help the show. The donate button is still available as well. 


Stacy tells another story of gratitude. Here grand staircase restoration is fraught with project creep. After writing a post about it on the Blake Hill House blog, her friend Dale, sensing Stacy’s frustration, offered to help with the project. Stacy’s first impulse was to say that everything was fine. However, after some reflection, she realized that accepting help would be a huge benefit. The project is back on track, and Stacy gratefully received Dale’s support. 


Announcements: Stacy repeated the save-the-date for the 5th Window Preservation Summit hosted by the Window Preservation Standards Collective. Stacy previously shared incorrect dates. The Summit will be September 26-October 1st, 2021, at the Pine Mountain Settlement School in Bledsoe, Kentucky.   


Q&A: Stacy welcomes Bill Chapman from Enon Hall to answer the listener question, “How do you keep your momentum?”


Bill believes that long-term projects like old house preservation and restoration require endurance and perseverance over momentum. He admits that demo is fun, but sometimes he loses traction during the rebuilding phase. His biggest block is a lack of confidence about the correct process. He reaches out to other people who have done the project before to get advice.


It is Stacy’s turn to answer the question. She admits that projects that are too open-ended kill her momentum. She prefers to determine an end to each project, even if that means that the project itself isn’t complete. 


Bill thinks it is important not to set a deadline. 


Stacy states that maybe the lesson is to make sure to work according to your personality rather than trying to outline a task the way you saw someone else do it. Bill agrees. Then, they discuss the necessity of taking breaks sometimes to spark renewed interest in projects. 


Stacy reminds listeners to answer this season’s question: “What is the weirdest or most surprising thing you ever found in your old house? She shares some responses to the question and reminds listeners how to leave a voicemail to answer the question. Stacy believes that True Tales From Old Houses could benefit from a folklore expert to decode some of the oddities that people have found in their old houses. 


Stacy is on location at The Tool Library in Buffalo, New York. She welcomes president and founder Darren Cotton, and New Economies Coordinator, Maddie Hamilton. 


Darren explains how The Tool Library functions and how memberships work. 

(18:31) Stacy asks Darren to explain how he started The Tool Library. It began when he was a student at the University of Buffalo. He elaborates on the rental culture of the University Heights neighborhood of Buffalo, New York.

(23:06) Maddie offers the staggering statistic that Buffalo’s housing stock comprises around 90% of homes built before 1978.

(24:01) Darren describes what the University Heights area looked like before the arrival of the University of Buffalo South Campus.

(25:04) Stacy and Darren return to the topic of how Darren started the Tool Library from an administrative standpoint. Then, they discuss how The Tool Library receives funds and tools. 

(30:26) Stacy backtracks a little and asks Darren and Maddie about their backgrounds. 

(31:42) Stacy asks Darren how The Tool Library’s vision has changed since it began and the benefits that extend beyond loaning tools. Darren shares the story of Linear Park, a neglected green space. It had become a dumping ground. The neighborhood banded together to get funding from Rails-to-Trails. Linear Park is now a selling point for the neighborhood and a sense of pride in the community. 

(35:35) Darren tells another story about how the community, with The Tool Library’s help, used their mobile phones to identify graffiti and create actionable plans to remove it. 

(37:03) Stacy asks Maddie to explain how The Tool Library is operating during the pandemic. Maddie discusses how her onboarding date coincided with the pandemic shut-downs. The Tool Libary is still available for curbside pick-up, and all tool consultations are done before pick-up. 

(40:57) Stacy asks if The Tool Libary has any expansion plans. Do they intend to open more branches? Darren admits that it is an option, but this particular location requires too much time right now.

(43:10) Stacy asks Darren if he has any advice for people who might want to start a tool library in their area. Darren reminds people that there may already be one. Sometimes, traditional libraries loan out tools as a part of their circulation. Also, some Habitat for Humanity locations offer tool libraries. Otherwise, he suggests starting small and utilizing My Turn to keep track of the tools and supplies. The Tool Library currently uses as its inventory platform.  

(45:19) Stacy asks Maddie if she has any additional advice. Maddie states that one of the largest hurdles for The Tool Library is staffing. The location is staffed entirely by volunteers, except for Maddie. With the pandemic, understaffing is not as much of an issue, but it’s something to consider for anyone who wants to start a tool library.

(45:55) Stacy, Darren, and Maddie begin talking about Repair Cafes. Pre-pandemic, The Tool Library hosted twelve pop-up repair cafe nights under the name Dare to Repair Cafe. These came about because they were approached by the city of Buffalo’s recycling department. The recycling department was looking for innovative ways to keep more items out of the landfill. Staffed with volunteer repair people, The Dare to Repair Cafe helped community members repair their items rather than sending them to the trash. Maddie hopes that The Tool Library will be able to host these events again post-pandemic. 

(50:07) Stacy thanks Darren and Maddie for the opportunity to visit them on location and to hear their story. 

Thank you for listening to True Tales From Old Houses.

Until next time,



Stacy Grinsfelder  0:02  
I am Stacy Grinsfelder from Blake Hill House, and I am the host of True Tales From Old Houses.

Hello, I want to start out today with a few Thank yous. Someone with the username, Wavy Windows just started listening to True Tales From Old Houses, and they left a very kind review on Apple podcasts. In fact, in the last month, the show has received a few new reviews on Apple podcasts, all positive, thankfully. Your reviews and ratings do make a difference and they help new people find the show. And every time you tell someone about True Tales From Old Houses or share it on social media, that is a huge help too, and I'm so grateful for your support. If you are so moved, there is still a Donate button over on the True Tales From Old Houses website where you can make a one-time or reoccurring donation. And I'm still sending out the coffee mugs with the True Tales From Old Houses logo on it to listeners who donate in the $25 range or more. Now, this season, we do have a few commercial sponsors. So I am not going to mention that Donate button every time just know that it's there, and that I use all monetary support to pay the podcast bills and to keep improving the show. Now, speaking of gratitude, I got a very nice text this week from my friend Dale. Dale is a running buddy of mine, and he's shown up on the Blake Hill House blog several times, including recently when I built interior storm windows for my office. He's a long-time woodworker hobbyist and when he retired a few years ago, he set up a very nice workshop, which he kindly allows me to use when I need it. And he's been really great about teaching me how to use new tools to right now I'm working on the grand staircase here at Blake Hill House, and it is one of those jobs that has snowballed into something much larger than I wanted. I mean seven years into this whole house preservation project. I'm not naive. Projects will take as long as they take, right? But this one is the gift that just keeps on giving. Every time I dig into one task, it explodes into a few more. I mean, just as an example. First, it looked like I was only going to have to restore maybe six balusters. Now it looks like all 29 on the staircase are going to need an overhaul. Probably the biggest nightmare is that someone painted latex over oil paint without a proper bonding primer. There's also failing wood filler, balusters with hairline cracks and broken altogether, you name it. It's all normal old house stuff. And I'm not bitter, I assure you. But being on the receiving end of at least 40 years worth of incompatible products and methods is no fun at all. And since the staircase is the jewel of Blake Hill House, I need to make it right. I'm feeling a little bit of pressure. So I outlined all of that on the blog, which my friend Dale reads--getting back to Dale, I'm going somewhere with this, I promise. After that article dropped, he sent a text and it was sympathetic about the project creep. If you haven't heard that term project creep is exactly what I described earlier. It's when the project keeps escalating rather than unfolding as it was outlined in the original plan. I imagine that many of you have experienced project creep at some point in your old house project. Anyway, Dale wrote and I quote, "Should you ever decide it's getting disheartening due to large scale, I'm more than willing to give you a hand." My initial response was to fire back an,  "I'm fine. I don't need any help." I mean, these T-rex arms and my stubborn personality haven't let me down yet. And I began to tap out my response, tap tap tap, tap, tap, tap, tap. And then I thought, Wait, what is wrong with me? Why would I turn down this offer? Take the help, delete, delete, delete, delete, and I wrote back, tap tap tap. "I'm disheartened, and I would love some help." And just like that the grand staircase project at Blake Hill House is back on track. Dale is going to help me and I am excited to get back to work. So if you were also faced with a daunting project, maybe consider finding help for a portion of it and for goodness sakes, if someone offers to lend a hand say yes right away say yes. I will be posting regular updates on the blog if anyone is interested in following along and my blog is, which I will link in the show notes. 

All right, I want you to know that today's show is sponsored by PLUNJR. That's P-L-U-N-J-R. If you have a plumbing problem, download the Plunjr app for iphone or android open it up and push the talk to a plumber now button. In less than a minute you'll be connected with a professional plumber who will help you diagnose your problem and come up with a do-it-yourself plan to fix it. The first call is free. After that if you opt to move forward you'll schedule a paid follow-up call to complete your plumbing project with as much or as little hand holding as you need from a licensed plumber from Plunjr. Have I told you I replaced my kitchen faucet and garbage disposal with the help of plunger? That's kind of a trick question because if you follow me on Instagram, read my blog or listen to the podcast. Of course you know because I cannot stop talking about it. I'm just so happy that I did it without the extra trips to the hardware store and nary a swear word either--almost unheard of. I ordered all my parts from Plunjr, which you can do to or provide your own-- your choice. Aaron from Plunjr talked me through the installation process, and in about 90 minutes, boom, new faucet and garbage disposal. Again, download the app, open it and press talk to a plumber now. The first call is free. And if you mentioned-- this is important, if you mention True Tales From Old Houses, you'll get 10% off your parts order from Plunjr. That's P-L-U-N-J-R, the Plunjr app.

Alright, announcements. I don't actually have any new announcements for you today. But I am going to repeat the save the date from the Window Preservation Standards Collaborative. They're hosting the fifth annual window preservation summit at the Pine Mountain Settlement School in Bledsoe, Kentucky, September 26, through October 1 2021. And I think I may have said those dates wrong last time. But September 26, through October 1 is correct. And I'll post a link to the summit right on the show notes. Now if you're part of a nonprofit organization that is hosting an event that is relevant to our listeners, please do reach out to me through the True Tales From Old Houses website, and I'd be happy to announce it on an upcoming episode.

It's time for Q & A, and I have invited a friend to come on the show and help me out. Let's see who's here today. 

Bill  6:31  

Stacy Grinsfelder  6:32  
It's Bill. Hi, Bill, Bill Chapman from Enon. Hall.

Bill  6:35  
Hey, Stacy. How's it going?

Stacy Grinsfelder  6:36  
Good. It's so nice to hear your voice again. 

Bill  6:39  

Stacy Grinsfelder  6:40  
Thank you for coming back this season to join me for Q&A. Are you ready for today's question? 

Bill  6:47  

Stacy Grinsfelder  6:48  
All right. This is fun for me, because I always get to throw it at my guests first. So be prepared.

Bill  6:53  
Okay. You're making me nervous?

Stacy Grinsfelder  6:56  
Yeah. You always get to give the first answer. And then if you say something really smart, then I can just jump off that.

Bill  7:04  
Okay, we'll see how it goes.

Stacy Grinsfelder  7:05  
All right. Well, you have been working on an old house, Enon Hall,  longer than anyone I know, which makes you highly qualified to answer today's question. And it is, how do you keep your momentum?

Bill  7:20  
Oh, wow. Well, I suppose we might need to clarify what you mean by momentum. Because in my high school physics, I remember that momentum goes both ways. It can go uphill, and it can also go downhill. So I assume we're talking about forward momentum?

Stacy Grinsfelder  7:37  
Sure. and prevent--How do you prevent a backward momentum? 

Bill  7:42  
Yeah, there you go. You know that, that's a great question. And I tend to think of our projects more in terms of endurance and perseverance. And, and momentum for me is when you get into a project, of seeing it through to fruition, into into completion. And what I find is that it's really easy to maintain that momentum when you are deconstructing. And then the momentum stops when you reach the point where you've got to put it back together and to rebuild. You know, because-because demo is easy. Demo's fun, anybody can do demo, but then you reach the point where you stop and are scratching your head. So for me, the biggest preventers or blocks to momentum are when I lose confidence in where I go from here--of feeling confident that I've got the plan that I have the expertise that I have the skills, you know, and that can make me stall out. So I think, you know, for me, at that point, it's reaching out to other folks who've been down the road on those projects and getting some advice and getting off of stuck, is the best way to maintain that momentum. How about you? Where have you run into this challenge in your projects?

Stacy Grinsfelder  9:02  
Well, I am not. People think of me as really organized. And they think of me as a list maker and 

Bill  9:11  
I've seen all the labels on your storage compartments. You've got to be organized. 

Stacy Grinsfelder  9:15  
Yeah, so I am but there's kind of a there's a lot up here (tapping head). So I think what helps me keep the momentum is I have to know that there is an end. Now I think that all of us who are working on old houses know that the end doesn't mean the house is done. I just mean each project needs to have an end. And that end might not be--it might just be like a cliffhanger, you know, ready for the next installment of the next part of the project. But I just that's usually how I keep going is just to make sure that I know what the end is because if I leave it too open, then I start to get really overwhelmed with the tools out or the debris all over, or you know, the big mess and, and every time somebody asks me, when are you going to be done? I get really sensitive and cranky about it, because it's just too open-ended. So that, I guess, that's how I keep my momentum from project to project. Now, if you were going to talk about the bigger picture, though, I mean, obviously, we just said, old houses are never done. So that is not the end. But how would you keep the momentum for something that was a very large scale, maybe a somewhat overwhelming project? Do you have any ideas for that?

Bill  10:36  
I think number one is not setting a deadline. I mean, we are at the point now, I mean, we were for several years, we were in a period where we were working against a deadline and, and now we're back to our normal lives, and trying to have lives beyond just work on the house. So I think the best way to persevere and to have endurance is not to set deadlines, that creates stress. The other part of it, too, is that I love working on our house. And I love the slow gradual process of improving and restoring room after room and space after space. And I don't know what other hobby I would enjoy as much. So I'm not setting aside other hobbies in order-- because I have to work on the house, working on the house is my hobby. So I think if you bring that kind of passion, if you're able to bring that kind of passion to your projects, then it doesn't become drudgery. And it's your hobby,

Stacy Grinsfelder  11:38  
Right. I'm getting a kick out of our conversation, because you're like, "the best way is to not set a deadline," and I'm like, "the best way is to set an ending."

Bill  11:48  
Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely.

Stacy Grinsfelder  11:50  
I think maybe that's the lesson here is that you kind of have to find out what works for your personality and, and make sure you're tailoring your projects to match your personality instead of matching someone else's. And I think that was a pitfall for me for a while. I kept looking around on Instagram and blogs and seeing people do things a certain way. And I, you know, I hit my head against that brick wall for three years trying to do that thing that everybody told me or the method that everybody told me would work, and it just didn't fit.

Bill  12:25  
You have to find the solution that fits your life and your lifestyle or you know, whether you have small kids in the house or not, whether you're working full time or not. You know, there's we all have to figure out how to make it work within our own constraints in our own lives.

Stacy Grinsfelder  12:42  
One thing that I like that you said is that, you know, now you're interested in having, you're always interested in doing this work. But you also want to have a life outside of this work, too. And that's a really important thing, maybe for some people to hear, maybe not everybody, but some people need to hear that there is life beyond fixing up your old house and maybe spending a little bit of time in that other world will give you the excitement for the project again. So taking a little break even. 

Bill  13:12  
Absolutely. And you might by taking a break, you might find the inspiration that you bring back to a project. We found inspiration in England, that applied to a project. It was like there's the answer that for something that had stalled out. The little house that we rented in England, like that's what we need to do.

Stacy Grinsfelder  13:30  
That's neat. All right. Well, that's all good stuff. Bill. Thank you very much for answering this. I guess I don't have anything else to add. Do you have anything else to add? Or do you feel like we kind of covered it?

Bill  13:41  
Keep the faith. Keep the Faith.

Stacy Grinsfelder  13:42  
Yeah, Thanks for being here today. Bill.

Bill  13:46  
Great to chat with you.

Stacy Grinsfelder  13:48  
All right, bye

Now it's your turn. This season. I have a question for you as a listener, and it is what is the weirdest or most surprising thing you ever found in your old house? No one left a voicemail for me. But I did get a few answers to the question via the contact form on the website. Caitlin sent me a photo of an electrical outlet right next to a shower drain. Surprise, water and electricity don't mix. That's crazy, right? And Sophie on Instagram said that the weirdest or most surprising things she found in her old house were doll heads in the walls, not dolls, doll heads. Now, my cursory research taught me that doll heads might have been put there to absorb any bad luck directed at the human occupants. But I really think we need to get a folklore expert to come on this show and unpack all of that. I think these weird things are going to come up throughout the season. So if you know a folklore expert, please do send them my way. And I want to hear your answers all season so please visit the True Tales From Old Houses website and on the bottom right hand side you'll see a microphone icon. Click on that microphone and you can leave a voicemail answer, which I I might share on an upcoming episode of the show. Please answer in a complete sentence. And don't be shy. You can leave that voicemail using your phone or even your computer as long as it has a microphone. Now your privacy is important, so rest assured that any messages you leave will not be shared without your permission. So thank you, Caitlin, and Sophie, for taking the time to answer the question about the weirdest, or most surprising thing you ever found in your old house.

Today's guests are local to me. So I took a quick trip downtown to interview them for the show. Darren and his friends started The Tool Library, a lending library for tools about 10 years ago, I found out about the organization last fall, and I thought the idea of a tool lending library was absolutely brilliant. What a resource. So to talk about how the tool library works and the sharing economy. I'm happy to introduce you to Darren Cotton, and Maddie Hamilton.

Darren  16:14  
Hi, I'm Darren cotton. I'm president and founder of the tool library.

Maddie  16:19  
I'm Maddie Hamilton. I am the new economies coordinator at the tool library.

Stacy Grinsfelder  16:24  
Great. Well thank you so much for being my guests today. And it is a real treat to get to talk to people on location. Normally everyone that I interview is remote. So this is really great. I appreciate you having me here.

Darren  16:37  
Thanks for coming out.

Stacy Grinsfelder  16:37  
You're semi-local to me. So it was just a short drive. Lots of snow where I live this morning. So it was a little bit of a tricky drive. But here I am. Well, I found The Tool Library flyer at one of the architectural salvage shops. And I was immediately taken with the idea because most of my listeners are fixing up old houses and the startup cost of amassing a personal tool collection can be overwhelming, especially for tools that are used infrequently. Tool rental is an option, but of course that comes with high fees, and usually a very tight timeline to complete the work. So this excites me, I love this. I love the idea. So Darren, why don't you start and explain the basics of this tool library, and the sharing economy just to get our listeners up to speed.

Darren  17:25  
Sure. So the way The Tool Library works, very similar with your standard book library. But instead of borrowing books, obviously, people are borrowing tools. So people can sign up for annual memberships, we have three different tiers $20 $50, and $100. So for $20 a year, people can get access to up to five tools at a time for up to a week at a time. And we did just do some tabulation for this past year. And the average tool value that someone's taking out is about $61. So again, most people are making their membership fee back the first time they borrow a tool, 

Stacy Grinsfelder  18:04  

Darren  18:04  
And the goal here really is to increase access and to remove costs as a barrier for people who are trying to fix up their home. Lots of people who are first-time gardeners trying to grow their own food, as well as supporting a lot of community-based initiatives, tree plantings, public arts, community gardens, those sorts of things, again, really trying to remove cost as a barrier. And sharing is a really great way to do that.

Stacy Grinsfelder  18:31  
Great. How did you start The Tool Library? I mean, honestly, how did this come about?

Darren  18:36  
Sure. So I was a grad student at the time at UB, living off campus in the University Heights neighborhood, which if anyone's familiar, there are a lot of really lovely historic homes in the area. It's one of the, I guess, quote unquote, newer sections of the city if you consider the 1920s and 30s, to be new. But I was living with a bunch of friends in an apartment. And unfortunately, we had a landlord who was not so great on the upkeep. So we kind of decided that, you know, we thought we were handy enough, we could do a few things here and there to really kind of improve our quality of life. But obviously, as broke college students, you know, not really having access to the resources that we needed to go to Home Depot or a big box store and purchase these tools. So that's really where, you know, the idea for The Tool Library came from-- knowing that I was in this situation as a student renter and, you know, knowing that other people across the neighborhood and across the city could probably benefit from a place where they could access the tools that they needed to fix up their homes and apartments. 

Stacy Grinsfelder  19:49  
Right. Let me stop you for just a minute so that we can give people a picture. Now we're in Buffalo, New York, I guess I really didn't specify that when I sat down. I know where I am. You know where you are, but maybe the people who are listening don't know where we are. So let's explain a little bit about this neighborhood. University Heights you said it's newer, you know, 1910s 1920s. Tell us a little bit about what the rentals are like there because they're not apartments. I mean, they're apartments, but they're really houses divided up. So give us a little picture there.

Darren  20:19  
Sure. So I guess the vernacular language would be the Buffalo Double. So it's basically, you know, if you were looking at the house, you might not know that it was two units, but it's basically one unit on the ground floor, and then one unit on the second floor. And that's kind of like the standard Buffalo rental, and university heights--The name University heights comes from the fact that we're located right near the University of Buffalo's South Campus, right on the edge of Buffalo and the adjoining suburb Amhurst. So it was one of the later areas to be developed and got developed, kind of because of the university relocating there. Unfortunately, today, you know, I think a lot of people see this neighborhood as quick money. So you know, renting to students being able to kind of extract as much money as you can out of a property without putting little if nothing back into it. And so that was really the issue that I was trying to address head on with something like The Tool Library,

Stacy Grinsfelder  21:26  
Right? And what kind of problems were you facing with your rental? What kind of things did you want to fix?

Darren  21:32  
I mean, a lot of it obviously, was cosmetic, so just bathrooms that hadn't been updated in 20 or 30 years, peeling wallpaper, chipping, and peeling paint. So again, stuff that we felt comfortable being able to tackle, but, you know, something that obviously was not very high on the priority list of our landlord. You know, obviously, there were additional issues that we weren't qualified for, you know, non functioning heating systems, drafty windows, all those sorts of things that I'm sure people with old homes are familiar with. But you know, we were trying the best that we could, as students to, you know, improve and invest in a space that we were calling home.

Stacy Grinsfelder  22:16  
Yes, Buffalo is sort of full of rental sections. And there's lots there's room for lots of different types of housing in Buffalo, because it is a big city, but unfortunately, certain regions do get overlooked. As far as, you know, they're known for being areas where landlords don't invest in their properties and don't take care of the people who live in their houses. And I think that's really sad. You know, it's, it's a really stark contrast to some of the other historic neighborhoods in town that are just completely kept up, you know, historically accurate restoration preservation. I don't know, do you happen to know? I mean, what percent or I mean, could you ballpark how many old houses there are in Buffalo? It seems like they're all old, like 50 years or older. There's very few. I can't even think of a new build, quite frankly, 

Maddie  23:06  
It's something like 90% of Buffalo's housing stock was built before 1978. I think we had to find that figure for-- that was sometime around then is when lead paint was banned. So most of Buffalo's housing qualifies as maybe having lead paint. But it's one of the oldest housing stocks in the country in Buffalo.

Stacy Grinsfelder  23:32  
That does not surprise me. Even where I live, south of the city. I think our inventories, I would guess it at least that high as well.  I mean, when you start getting to the outskirts, maybe, maybe some newer ones, but it's very, very rare. So that's really interesting. Do you-- before it became a university neighborhood, do you know why it was built in the first place was it just basically to support the grain industry that was so large and prevalent here in Buffalo?

Darren  24:01  
So the university moved to present day South Campus, I think, around 1913 1914. Prior to that, the main administration building was actually the Erie County Almshouse. So it was where you know, people who were considered poor and destitute where it was an opportunity for them to have a place to live in somewhere to have regular meals. And so when the university decided that they were going to move to the Almshouse, that's really where we saw an explosion of residential development around this area. Up until that point, it was you know, they called it the Great Plains because it was literally just like meadows and pastures. So a lot of it was farming land. You know, you had one or two outposts here and there, but up until you know, the 1910s 1920s this area was largely undeveloped.

Maddie  24:57  
Yeah, Buffalo was a planned city, but I don't Think that plan in the 1800s extended out this far. 

Stacy Grinsfelder  25:04  
Okay. I should mention too, that I'm a transplant to the area, I just passed the seven year mark. So I am still learning the history of the entire region. And I moved from out west. So I didn't just move from, you know, a different part of New York. I'm not from here at all. All right, so let's get back to The Tool Library. It's really interesting, it kind of establishes a picture of where you live, and how you can-- how The Tool Library can help people in this area. So you wanted to start The Tool Library. I mean, how does one do that?

Darren  25:37  
Sure. There is no magic formula, unfortunately. Although I will say I was really lucky that there was a really supportive online community of people who had founded and were running two libraries sort of across the country. This was back in 2011, when things like Google Groups were still super popular. So I stumbled upon a tool library Google group and just, you know, not having to start from scratch. So whether it was how to go about finding an insurance carrier that will actually cover it to a library to just your standard documents, like membership applications, waivers, and indemnifications, all that good stuff. So again, I think one of the beautiful things about the sharing economy is that people are so willing to help one another because they understand the impact and the value that things, you know, related to the sharing economy can add to communities. So it's just a really welcoming, generous community. Having all those, you know, initial steps covered for us, I was able to work with a friend who was getting his MBA at the university, to put together a preliminary business plan of you know, how The Tool Library would function, who our market would be. And then we applied for a small seed grant from the city of Buffalo, from one of our local council members. So I got $15,000 as a 20 to 23 year old and was like, oh, man, this is like actually happening. This is real, starting into a library.

Stacy Grinsfelder  27:14  
So did that $15,000 feel like a million at that point?

Darren  27:17  
Yes, it did. And now like having, you know, 10 years of experience, and just lots of background in grant writing, it's like, Wow, that is really just such a drop in the bucket when it comes to these sorts of projects, 

Stacy Grinsfelder  27:31  
Right. Is this year, the first location, or have you--have you always been at this location? 

Darren  27:36  
So we actually started about three blocks further down Main Street in a much smaller space. And we moved here in January of 2013. So we'd been here for about eight years.

Maddie  27:49  
And it's it's Tool Library mythology that it started with three rakes on a wall. All the tools you see around you now were not here then. 

Stacy Grinsfelder  27:58  
Wow. Yeah. So let's talk about where you get these tools. 

Darren  28:01  
Sure. So you know, I would say probably 70 75% of the tools that you see have been donated either by individuals, or businesses, corporations, that sort of thing. And then the rest, we do have a small annual budget, where we're able to kind of go out and fill in the gaps for things that we might not have that have been requested, kind of those higher end items. But even today, after this podcast, I'm going to Ace Hardware, one of our local hardware stores, they're donating about $1,000 worth of tools to us, just because they believe in the mission. And they understand that, you know, the more people who feel confident and comfortable in tackling these projects, the more customers they will have, or we like to think of ourselves not as competition, but as collaborators. So it really has just kind of been taking whatever we can get and working with businesses and corporations to help them understand the value that something like the tool library can bring.

Stacy Grinsfelder  29:01  
Right. So you are funded by memberships, you're funded. You said you talked about writing grants, you're also funded by, like you said, someone really kind like Ace who had donated $1,000 worth of tools for you. Do you-- is that your only funding basically?

Darren  29:17  
So we actually this is a great question. I feel much more prepared, because we just went through a fund development boot camp, which is I feel like a super critical phase for a lot of nonprofits as they seek to grow and expand. So yeah, all those sort of sources that you mentioned are where we get revenue from but a big part of any nonprofits, sort of pro forma is fundraising. And obviously, with the pandemic that has kind of had us have to shift how we fundraise. So moving a lot of things online, using platforms like Facebook to do crowdfunding. So Maddie helped us run a really successful for Facebook fundraiser to raise about $1,000. So we could add a really high quality HEPA vac,kind of looking to get into the lead abatement field and help homeowners who may have lead based paint in their homes, safely and affordably remediate those issues.

Stacy Grinsfelder  30:19  
Mm hmm. Interesting. What is? --We never did talk about this? So we can go backwards? Just a little bit. But what is your background? Maddie, what's your background?

Maddie  30:26  
Yeah, I grew up in Buffalo. And then I went out of town for school. And I studied architecture. And I'm interested in going back to school and becoming an architect. But I was drawn to The Tool Library, because it's like about making spaces in alternative ways, making community through making spaces. And yeah, that that really attracted me.

Stacy Grinsfelder  30:51  
How about you, Darren?

Darren  30:53  
So yeah, I went to UB for a master's in urban planning, and I was really taken by the fields of planning, just kind of it seemed like a really great way to make the world a better place. As cliched as that might sound. But I think one of the things that sort of frustrated me was that a lot of planning, education is really based in theory. And I was really drawn to the fields of community development, kind of within urban planning. And I feel like to actually practice community development is to just live in a community to build relationships to get to know your neighbors. And The Tool Library is just such a wonderful platform, I think, to do that, and to really approach community development from a very grassroots perspective.

Stacy Grinsfelder  31:42  
Well, let's talk about that. You, you segued that beautifully, thank you very much, without even knowing it. But I would like to know somewhat some of the unexpected maybe side effects of starting the tool library. I mean, I imagine when you start something, you're seeing it one way, and then it kind of blossoms into something else. So can you talk about what happened in response to the troll tool library?

Darren  32:04  
Sure. So you know, kind of that the Genesis story was very much focused on the idea of being able to fix up homes, empowering people to take ownership over the places that they call home. But one of the things I think that continues to excite and encouraged me about The Tool Library is thinking beyond just the individual and kind of looking at the community as a whole. And so we have all these tools, how can we as a community use these tools to tack to tackle quality of life issues that we see in our own community. And so a really great example, I think, is actually walking walking distance from where we are, that's a neighborhood park Linear Park. And for a long time, it was a neglected, under invested greenspace serving the University Heights neighborhood. And so we started working with one of the local block clubs, the high street block club, and I hear that block clubs are like a Buffalo-centric phenomenon. So for those that may have never heard of the term block club, it's basically like a neighborhood organization, just neighbors getting together to kind of try and solve issues on their street and on their block. So we were working with the Heat Street Block Club, just organizing regular cleanups of the park, working with the city to remove larger, you know, brush, unfortunately, it was a dumping ground for a lot of contractors, that sort of thing. And kind of through that process, we found out that there was federal funding to transform a vacant rail right-of-way running right alongside Linear Park into a rail trail. So we were able to work with that block club and work with the community. We got about 3000 petitions signed from residents saying that they wanted to see the city invest in this space, they wanted to see a rail trail. And the funding that the city had gotten was actually set to expire in 2015. And we were able to get the city to sign a lease about a month before the funding was set to expire. A year after that the North Buffalo Rail Trail was constructed and completed. And now it's, I would say one of the centerpieces of this community, something that is attracting new homeowners and new interests in this community. And it all started with, you know, a bunch of neighbors getting together and cleaning up a park. So I think that's the power of The Tool Library and the sharing economy is just one thing leads to another which leads to another it's just a really wonderful thing to be part of. 

Stacy Grinsfelder  34:39  
I'm kind of an emotional person so like I got goose bumpy and stuff just thinking about how-- you know meeting your neighbors--here's so many-- I don't know there's there's a lot of division, you know that this idea that we just want to live in our house and not talk to anyone and just go to work and then go home, and but you know, when you're in a community, it serves everyone to invest yourself and get to know each other. So I'm really impressed by that. In fact, after we talk today, I'm going walk down there, I've got to go see it-- walk around the neighborhood a little bit. So also, I guess, I saw some you did a TEDx talk, is that correct? You did a TEDx Buffalo?

Darren  35:21  
Yes. Way back when? 

Stacy Grinsfelder  35:22  
Yeah, I think what was it? 2011 or something?

Darren  35:26  
2013 2014.

Stacy Grinsfelder  35:27  
Okay. Yeah, I forgot about that. But you were talking about there are some murals that came about in part, I guess, because of The Tool Library. Is that correct?

Darren  35:35  
So that was another really interesting thing, too, like, what do we perceive as a tool? So obviously, you know, we're surrounded by hammers, wrenches, sanders, saws in here right now. But thinking about things like mobile phones as tools. So we work with someone who had been using mobile phones in developing countries as payment processing systems. So really, how can we use the mobile phone in unique and innovative ways. And one of the things we did in University Heights is use phones to track instances of graffiti. So we would actually do kind of community mapping days where people would come out, we would take pictures and geotag, you know, where graffiti was in the neighborhood on a Google map. So we could kind of quickly search and figure out, you know, well, we need this many people for this area, here's how many here's how much supplies we need. And kind of using that as an opportunity not only to remove the graffiti, but find potential canvases for things like public art. And so again, even like across the street from the storefront, you know, there's this big bright bird that I absolutely love, and just to see people like walk by and stop and look, and take pictures. It's just a really exciting thing. And that all kind of came about, because, you know, we're all walking around with a tool in our pocket that can do so many different things

Stacy Grinsfelder  37:03  
Sure. All right, Maddie, I'm going to turn to you. But as I understand it, you have been operating The Tool Library during the pandemic. And what--I'm just curious, I know the pandemic has affected everyone. So how is The Tool Library coping with that?

Maddie  37:18  
Yes, so The Tool Library was fully volunteer-run prior to my coming on. So the shop was open six days a week fully staffed by volunteers and run by the board. But this past year, they made the realization, the commitment through a strategic planning process, that the things that The Tool Library needed to grow was a bigger space. As you can see, we're packed to the gills with tools, and then also professional staff. So I was kind of the first step into having full-time staff. And I planned to come on my onboarding date was March 16. And that is pretty much the date that everything shut down in New York. So I did come on on March 16. And we basically, The Tool Library shut down for six weeks. Just in that beginning in the spring, nobody really knew what we were dealing with. And we used the time to kind of create a Human Centered Design plan of how we can reopen during the pandemic. And at first we opened for just we call The Tool Library to-go where we use the space next door. We have a second storefront that had previously been used for like community gatherings, like art shows, events, and things, we obviously weren't doing those now. So we use that as the space to loan tools out of while the volunteer was in another space kind of to cut down on contact. And we have just been tweaking that process ever since, depending on how New York State is doing with COVID. And it has been an interesting time to get to know the organization. We, The Tool Library runs a schedule of service events every year. And we sort of had to reimagine those as well. But the nice thing was that they're mostly outside and open spaces where volunteers are doing cleanups or planting trees and can be separated from one another. So it was great also to reimagine those in the time of COVID and still get to see the impact of that work come out this summer in this fall.

Stacy Grinsfelder  39:35  
So if somebody wants a tool now, do they call you and ask for it and then you kind of do the handoff?

Maddie  39:42  
Yes, we are doing curbside service right now. So normally ordinarily, there would be a volunteer working here while we're open and anyone can walk right in and strike up a conversation and figure out what tool they need, etc. But right now because we want to limit that kind of contact, we'd suggest that you would sign up for a membership online before coming in, on our website,, you can do that very easily. And then you would call or text before you're planning to come in and just chat with a volunteer about what tool you needed. They would get it ready. And when you pull up or walk up, they'll bring it outside. 

Stacy Grinsfelder  40:22  
Right. Okay, great. And and yes, you mentioned It's a beautiful website. So you can get all different three types of memberships there. That's great. How I guess anybody who could drive here could become a member, is that correct? If you can walk here or drive here? So you don't? Or do you limit it to a certain county, you know, like the way a public library does? 

Maddie  40:43  
Previously, we were just serving Erie and Niagara County. This summer, we opened up to all of Western New York. So all nine counties, I think, of Western New York, can --residents can come and become a member.

Stacy Grinsfelder  40:57  
Do you ever see this expanding like getting new branches in other locations the way a library system might? Or are you just still right here right now?

Darren  41:06  
I mean, for us right now, it's hard to imagine that just because we know how much time and effort it takes to just run this location. But you know, one of the long-term visions and our strategic plan is this idea of satellite locations. And so again, you know, whether that's us running multiple branches, or whether that's us supporting other organizations, starting their own tool libraries, but working within a network, we're not exactly sure what that will look like. But, again, I think, with one of our sort of founding values being accessibility, obviously, where you're located has a huge determination on how accessible you are to different populations. So yeah, as I, I tend to say, you know, a turkey in every oven and a tool library in every neighborhood. That's the dream.

Maddie  41:56  
We have had a lot of interest from other community groups, so far this year, and starting their own small tool libraries and in whatever area they're working in, it's definitely part of the part of the vision to either support these other people or get out there ourselves.

Stacy Grinsfelder  42:12  
Right, that's interesting. My head automatically went to the toolmobile. When I was young, we used to have the bookmobile and I lived in an extremely rural area, extremely rural. And so we had the bookmobile that used to come around every two weeks and bring books and I"d look out the window and like run as fast as I could to the bookmobile. I think as an adult, I would run just as fast to a toolmobile right now, I really would. I think most of our listeners would, if you could offer some advice to someone. So this is a show that people listen to at a national level. I mean, obviously, I want to get the word out to Buffalo listeners, more local listeners. So there'll be show notes, I'll make sure that people who are-- can be your patrons will know about the service. We are national. And I imagine that some people who are listening are thinking to themselves, this would be a great fit for my community. It may already be there for one, or maybe they would like to start one. So do you have any advice? I mean, I know, it's probably exhausting to educate people on the process of starting something when a lot of times it takes-- you can start with Google and go from there.

Darren  43:24  
Yeah, so I would say, again, to your point, there are lots of tool libraries around the country and honestly, around the world. So first step is just to kind of see if there is one in your community, if there isn't, there's lots of different models for tool libraries out there. So some public library systems actually will run tool libraries as a part of what they do. So you know, always looking for partnerships and sort of institutions that are already established in the community, you know, some Habitat For Humanity's I know, will run tool libraries as well. But if there isn't one, you know, in your local community, and you're interested in starting a really good place to start, I would say is My Turn. And that's actually the platform that we use to track all the tools and track all our members. So that is really a foundational piece of what makes The Tool Library work is actually being able to kind of have that database and have that back end. And so literally, you know, reach out to My Turn, and let's say you've got two dozen tools, and a few friends were interested. And maybe like someone's willing to lend their garage, you know, you can inventory those items, get them up online and just, you know, start pushing that messaging that these things are available. And that's really, I mean, kind of how we got started is just a handful of tools and a few members. And you know, today we've got 3600 tools and probably 625 active members. So, you know, start small, see if it works and you know, with The Tool Library we've just tended. we've tended to attract, you know, people who really identify with the mission and the vision. And I think those people are all over the place all across the country. And so being able to have a place to kind of bring those people together, I think is really important.

Stacy Grinsfelder  45:19  
Is there anything else that you would want to add Maddie or any anything you would want my listeners to know? 

Maddie  45:26  
Well, Darren, I feel like just gave such an inspirational answer to that. I was thinking, the challenges. The when you're thinking of just like, having a storefront open, I feel like the alternative that Darren presented is a really great idea to start small, because some of the biggest challenges that tool libraries face are staffing, just staffing the storefront. So that's my little addition.

Stacy Grinsfelder  45:52  
And you said you're staffing with all volunteers? 

Maddie  45:54  
Yeah, yeah. 

Stacy Grinsfelder  45:55  
Okay. So I guess I do have one more question, and then we'll wrap it up for the day. But is there a component of this tool library that's also like a fixit shop? Did I understand that or was that pre-pandemic. Is that the goal for post pandemic, what's?

Darren  46:09  
Sure. So we actually were approached by the city of Buffalo's recycling department. Again, they're always trying to come up with unique and innovative ways to divert more trash from landfills. And so they had been kind of looking at different models. And one, one of the models was repair cafes. And so this was a concept started, I think, back in 2008, in the Netherlands, because those Dutch are always on top of things like this. But basically, it was inviting members of the community to come and bring a broken item. So whether that was a vacuum, a lamp or record player, blender, just things that you know, you otherwise probably would have just thrown in the trash. But maybe you couldn't part with to bring those items--out to basically a monthly event where expert fixers, so these were retired mechanics, electricians, teachers, would come and kind of work alongside that person to troubleshoot what the issue was. And ideally, at the end of the session, you know, they go home with a functioning item. And so again, the idea here was to really get people to rethink kind of our approach to disposability. And the idea of we're living in the age of Amazon, where when something breaks, we go online and just buy another one. And really realizing that we have to shift that mentality, if we do want to tackle things like climate change, we have to get back into this mindset of repairability and reusability. So we kind of launched a local version of that here that we called Dare-to-Repair Cafe is. So our last one that we held was actually back in February of 2020. Because it is an in-person event. And you know, people are in close proximity. We couldn't continue that during the pandemic. But yeah, basically what we did, we had monthly events, usually in libraries or schools, where we would invite community members to come out with their broken items. And our hashtag was #fixitdontditchit. But at the end of that, I think we had hosted probably about a dozen events, we had diverted 3100 pounds of potential trash from landfills. So these were things that were destined to be thrown out that people walked away and had functioning items, it was just again, a really great opportunity beyond just ,you know, saving people money, just kind of hearing the stories behind, you know, items like someone would bring in their grandmother's lamp that had been in the basement and hadn't worked for like 40 or 50 years. So again, to kind of just see that personal connection, and the impact that just, you know, something like a simple repair can have on someone's life. So we really want to get back to that. And again, as an all volunteer organization, we're kind of stretched, but you know, is there an opportunity to transition that to a virtual format? There have been some repair cafes around the country that have done that and it's basically just like an "Ask me anything" where the fixers are online and people can kind of zoom in and say, hey, I've got this lamp or I've got this, you know, stand mixer that this doesn't seem to be working and just kind of troubleshooting people over over video chatting platform.

Maddie  49:24  
I love this part of the tool libraries work and mission. I obviously I haven't been around for the Dare-to-Repair cafes because they've been I've been here during the pandemic. But there's a fun statistic that's been floating around that the average power drill is only used for 12 minutes in its lifetime before it ends up thrown out. Because you think of like someone who goes to Sears they need to put up some pictures or something and then it sits in the closet. And I love that part of the ideology behind The Tool Library that you don't need to own one of everything and also if it breaks you can fix it.

Stacy Grinsfelder  49:59  
Yeah To leave what was your tagline something about a turkey and every oven and?

Darren  50:04  
a turkey in every oven and a tool library in every neighborhood.

Stacy Grinsfelder  50:07  
That's great. Well, Maddie and Darren, thank you so much for being guests on the show today. It was, like I said, it's just a treat to be here on location and to meet you both. And to hear all about The Tool Library. Again, it's I'll put every all the pertinent information on the show notes for this episode. So anybody who has questions can, can check out the website and anything that we've talked about today that requires a link will also be on the show notes too, for easy access. 

Maddie  50:38  
Thank you for inviting us.

Darren  50:39  
Thank you so much.

Stacy Grinsfelder  50:39  
Thank you. Alright, so thank you for listening to today's episode on location at The Tool Library in Buffalo, New York. Be sure to follow True Tales From Old Houses and Blake Hill House on Facebook and Instagram. And for more information about this episode, including show notes, transcripts, merchandise, and to sign up for the monthly newsletter visit true Until next time,