Stepping inside Ace Typewriter is like returning via time machine to an era when handwriting was replaced by a new high tech invention – typewriting. On every shelf sit typewriters – no two alike. The mind reels at all the words and sentences that have been hammered out by these anachronistic relics, which all shine like new. You can feel the love.
Ace is a one-man operation, that man being Matthew. His parents opened the place in 1961. Family pictures and mementos vie for attention on his office wall. He started helping out when he was 8 and went full time (summers) when he turned 11. He never really stopped.
Ace’s specialty is repair and restoration of pre-1970 machines. They haven’t sold a new one in 20 years. They take no credit cards, only cash or check. Everywhere you see small boxes of parts, cubbyholes and geriatric typewriters – many with tags ready for pick up.
Although the place seems to be a chaos of clutter, you get the sense it’s a well-oiled machine.
Matthew brings his dog, Francie, to work to keep each other company. He likes what he does. It’s all he’s ever known. He restores all kinds of machines, including Remingtons and Olivers from the turn of the century. “I give them a chemical wash – polishing all the keys and parts. It takes 3 or 4 hours each. It’s a little monotonous – I listen to jazz.”
“With the really old machines you had to be a good typist,” Matthew says. “The keys were vertical and would strike upwards – you couldn’t see what you were typing.”
Best old typewriter I ask? “Probably an LC Smith. They later merged with Corona. What made it so good were the ball bearings. It had 16 ball bearings per type bar. No machine shop today could produce it.” He says the best typewriters are made by the Swiss. Why the Swiss? Good watchmakers.
People become devoted to their typewriters and have certain models they swear by. According to Matthew, noted author and lecturer Barry Lopez has three IBM Selectrics. He brings at least one in each year for an Ace overhaul.
Business comes via word of mouth. Ace has a website (Matthew thinks), created and hosted by a media company. He doesn’t visit it. He has no cell phone. The office phone is a rotary dial and it works fine. It comes with a separate cradle where you place the phone receiver to play on-hold music for callers (while he checks on orders). After the call he pulls a string in the cradle to reset the music loop.
Matthew says business is better now than in previous years. “Less competition,” he laughs. “There’s only a few of us doing this. But also many writers are going back to typewriters instead of computers. It’s too easy to delete with a computer. With a typewriter you can refer back to what you’ve written and keep going – helps prevent writer’s block.”
I can see that. This was typed on a laptop, with many fits and starts and numerous deletions and revisions. May have been faster (and better) on an old Remington.