Detroit tech repair shop aims to end 'throwaway culture' 

Fixed up

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Alyson Williams

Cameron Barnes got into computer repairs when he was living in a frat house at Wayne State University. "I had a MacBook plugged directly into the wall," the 28-year-old says. "We had a power outage and it got fried."

But when he took his computer into the Genius Bar at an Apple Store for repairs, they told Barnes his computer was "vintage" — or older than five years — and therefore unserviceable.

"They tried to sell me a new one," Barnes says. "But then the guy at the Genius Bar leaned in and said, 'Hey, I'm going to tell you exactly what you need to do.' So I thought, 'I can do this myself.'"

Barnes says it's all part of the "throwaway culture." Of course, Apple didn't invent it — it's as American as apple pie.

That's why Barnes says he's trying to help create a "repair economy." The benefits are numerous — discarded tech makes up what is called e-waste, which contains materials that are hazardous to the environment. Not only that, but tech repairs create jobs, and can be cheaper for the consumer.

So Barnes started FixTech Plus, a mobile and computer repair shop located in downtown Detroit. Since starting last September, Barnes says he's gotten offers from other companies to franchise — but they didn't want to be in downtown Detroit. Barnes put his foot down. "They didn't think there was enough business," Barnes says. "I looked at them and said, 'You guys are crazy!'"

Barnes worked a stint as a Genius at a suburban Apple Store, and said he noticed that many of his clients were coming from Detroit, Dearborn, Grosse Pointe, and even Canada. "There was just no company down here to fill the void," he says.

He originally started working out of the warehouse of Sit On It Detroit, a nonprofit that builds benches for bus stops. He was there for a year, and worked with them to develop solar-powered benches that can charge phones (check them out at the warehouse).

He moved to the Renaissance Center in January. And while being sequestered in the Renaissance Center poses its own set of challenges — like stringent building security for visitors and no street visibility — Barnes says business has been booming.

"I did a massive marketing campaign to get people to realize we were here," he says. "But I didn't realize the industry I was in — people need devices fixed, they go to the closest place. It doesn't matter where it's at."

Barnes says many of his clients include downtown employees who work at nearby General Motors, OnStar, Blue Cross Blue Shield, and Quicken Loans. "There's days when I walk into the office and there's five or six people already sitting there," he says. He's even been known to meet customers downtown to pick up and drop off devices.

The company services cellphones, tablets, and both Mac and PC computers. They also offer a trade-in service for old tech.

In the near future, Barnes and his team are plotting a yet-to-be-determined walk-in storefront location. Barnes also says he would like to create a blog to help educate people about repair culture.

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