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Once one of West Philly's grand business boulevards, Woodland Avenue now goes from Veterans Administration to Pharmacy to seen-better-days in fewer than 10 blocks. Easing past Clark Park into the bleeding edge of West Philly fighting back to life, the 4600 block has a mix of refreshed and still bedraggled buildings; 4620, home of the West Philly Tool Library (WPTL), is one of the former.
I hesitate at the door. The façade has no sign and no display window; might very well be knocking at somebody's apartment door. But when volunteer tool librarian Stacey Hendricks throws wide the door, all doubt is removed: The entire first floor of this row house is stuffed with all nature of tidily racked tools — from simple rakes and cultivators, to drain snakes and squirrel traps, shop vacs and sledgehammers. Beyond the ladders and wheelbarrows are complex electric items that are known only to the experts. But you don't have to be an expert to borrow a tool.
WPTL mastermind Michael Froehlich explains the rules. You must be over 18 with two forms of ID, and you must become a member at the princely sum of $20 annually — or, if you have faith plus cash, $200 for a lifetime membership. There are presently 60 members with more joining regularly, says Froehlich.
Hendricks says that WPTL plans to cooperate with local groups in loaning tools for repairs to homes right around WPTL's home. At the same time they hope to facilitate skills teaching. Get more facts by attending the open house/grand opening on March 15. Or check out their Web site, westphillytools.org.
The WPTL had its soft launch in September 2007, about six months after Froehlich started e-mailing community lists asking for volunteers, contributions and leads on a home for the institution-to-be. Froehlich was thrilled with the response. The library's 4620 Woodland locale was donated for the first year via those initial e-mails.
"It's really refreshing to have 100 percent support," Froehlich says. "I have yet to hear somebody say this is a bad idea or it shouldn't happen. Last year we talked to over 40 groups." Businesses have also kicked in. Woodland Building Supply, located diagonally across the avenue, supplied more than $500 in materials used to build the library's counters and shelves. Legally speaking, WPTL operates as a project of the Greater Philadelphia Urban Affairs Coalition, making such donations tax-deductible.
Friends of Clark Park (FOCP) doesn't need tax write-offs or goodwill, but it did need space. FOCP is famed for tree planting and general horticultural tinkering, so over the years it has amassed a good number of space-eating tools. While FOCP work days are intense, attracting 60 to 70 volunteers all of whom need implements, they are infrequent. So now those tools have moved a few blocks west and are available for loan to private individuals on nonproject days.
Inspiration for the WPTL comes from existing institutions. Froehlich moved to West Philly in the 1990s and loved it. He left in '99 for the West Coast and eventual law school at UC Berkeley. While he was there he made frequent use of the three tool libraries in the Bay Area. He moved back here with his tool library idea and got a job at Community Legal Services. He got the project going, attracting folks like Hendricks who has spent almost every Saturday for the last six months loaning tools.
Hendricks says he has a pretty nice collection of his own tools at home, which he hates to lend. "So volunteering here for me is the best of both worlds. I can freely encourage people to try new projects and lend them the [community] tools they need to do them."
The West Philly Tool Library's open house is Sat., March 15, noon to 5 p.m., 4620 Woodland Ave., 215-833-3190, westphillytools.org.