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Highlighting the stories of Milwaukee-area businesses that fix things.

Electronics break all the time. Why not fix them?

a Play Station 5 is disassembled on a white worktable. A man is using a screw gun to drill in screws.
Lina Tran
Paolo Torres puts a PlayStation5 back together after completing repairs on its HDMI port.

In the back of iTC Repairs, a PlayStation 5’s guts are spilled out on a work table.

It wouldn’t be a pleasant sight for the typical video game player, but Paolo Torres is a pro.

He drives in screws around the frame, putting the PlayStation back together. The HDMI port was broken. It’s a straightforward job, and one that comes through the doors of Torres’ electronics repair shop a lot.

Here, he offers repairs for cell phones, computers, tablets, and video game consoles. He gets a lot of smashed screens, broken charging ports, and water damage.

The 36-year-old has always been an entrepreneur.

When he was a kid, his older brother gave him a Nintendo 64. Torres started renting it out to other kids in Lima, Peru, where he grew up.

“In Peru, there’s places that rent video games — it’s a hangout spot, basically,” Torres says. “I would do the same thing at my house. I would just rent my video game for a half-hour, an hour, and I would charge my friends to play there.”

I ask whether the Nintendo ever broke, thinking this might be his fix-it origin story.

“Oh no, never,” Torres says. “I took care of my stuff.”

Instead, Torres got pulled into the business through one of his older brothers. At 13, he moved to Milwaukee. Eventually, he went to the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and studied civil engineering. But after graduating in 2010, on the heels of the U.S. recession, he couldn’t land a job.

“I could not find an engineering job for anything in the world,” Torres says. “I have a brother that lives in Spain that has a business similar to mine. I started learning from him. I was there for about six months. Then, I came here and obviously, still no job. I figured I might as well just start this.”

A man in a navy and ran sweatsuit looks over a PlayStation5 at a computer screen. A dog looks on from beside him.
Lina Tran
Yoshi watches as Torres tests the PlayStation.

Eleven years after offering repairs out of his house, the business is going strong. A couple years ago, Torres bought the shop at its current location on 7815 W. Burleigh St. His wife runs a salon next door. Their dogs, Yoshi and Dharna, supervise while Torres works.

With our devices being the fragile, breakable things that they are, Torres gets a unique look at the wear and tear of everyday life. Maybe it’s toddlers smashing iPads. Or, a lover’s quarrel.

“People throw their phones,” Torres says. “Let’s say usually guys with with a girlfriend — they’ll come and they’re like, ‘My girlfriend threw my stuff.’”

Can he fix bent phones? "If it’s not too bent, I can fix it because the screen is still going to fit,” he says. “But if it’s way too bent, or if there was too much hatred in that phone, I’m like, ‘Nah, I can’t do it.’”

The repairs he makes extend the lifetime of our electronics.

Electronic devices need many different precious metals and minerals that often have serious human and environmental impacts. Take just one of them — cobalt, which goes in rechargeable batteries in cell phones and tablets. Most of the world’s cobalt comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo, where workers often labor under dangerous, enslaved-like conditions. That extraction has laid waste to the region, bringing down trees and filling the air with dust and the water with mining waste.

Then, manufacturing and shipping those materials and devices all around the world generates planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions.

Using electronics longer is a great way to reduce their impact — and save money.

“We’re just messing up the planet with all this consumption,” Torres says. “It’s just overboard.”

a storefront has a sign that says ITC repairs
Lina Tran
iTC Repairs is located on 7815 W. Burleigh St.

Companies like Apple and Samsung pressure customers to buy new things when they release phone after phone.

Torres sees plenty of phones and thinks the upgrades are rarely worth it. “There’s no breakthroughs anymore,” he says.

Many manufacturers have also kept people from repairing their devices, by refusing to offer replacement manuals, parts, or tools. Torres points out a sticker that covers a screw on the PlayStation 5. When the sticker is disturbed, as Torres has done to fix the HDMI port, that tells manufacturers the device has been opened — sometimes voiding a warranty.

This has led to what’s called the “Right to Repair” movement. Some states, including Minnesota and Ohio, have laws that protect people’s freedom to tinker. In 2021, the Federal Trade Commission pledged to ramp up its protections of consumer’s right to fix things or take them to independent repair shops.

“You bought it. It’s yours,” Torres says. “You should be able to fix it or you should be able to get stuff to open it or do whatever you want with it.”

Torres’ advice? Use stuff longer. At least four to six years for phones. If it breaks, get it fixed. (And, when damage isn't repairable, recycle the device.)

Here’s where Torres might differ from other business owners: He doesn’t want repeat customers. “They’re like, ‘I’ll see you again!’ and I’m like, ‘Hopefully not for the same thing,’” he says, laughing.

But, come back if you need to. That’s still better than getting a new phone.

Lina is a WUWM news reporter.
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