Typewriter repair business keeps customers pecking away
Jim Crewes technically retired a couple of years ago from the typewriter business he inherited from his father. Today, however, he still gets calls and continues to repair customers’ typewriters.
“We don’t get a ton of repairs or make a lot of money,” says the owner of Indianapolis-based Indiana Typewriter Company who also works in commercial real estate. “I’m just taking care of my old customers, and I can’t leave until they retire,” Crews says.
Growing up in the typewriter repair business
As a young boy, Crewes repaired typewriters at the company, then run by his father. “I didn’t start here full-time until 1955, but I grew up in it,” he says. “I was probably 5-years-old when they sat me down with a screwdriver and told me to take as many pieces as I could out of that typewriter. Then one day they told me ‘put it back together’ and walked away.”
Crews didn’t get the typewriter back together 100-percent, he says. He took apart some pieces, he quickly learned, you should never take apart.
In 1967, Crewes took ownership of the company and is now in his 70s. Repair jobs can cost around $72 an hour plus parts, such as the keys, typebars or the carriage return lever. He says he gets business from about a 100-mile radius, and his customers come from various age groups.
Crewes says some of his customers are writers in their early 20s who use typewriters instead of computers. He’s not sure why exactly: “I think they like to hear the sound. It has the same keyboard as a computer, but you’re the one that has to drive it. You’re the one that has to make that key go down and print, and it’s a lot heavier than an electronic keyboard.”
Also, some homeowners buy vintage typewriters as household decorations, not to actually use them; these customers don’t typically get the machines repaired, Crews says. A vintage manual typewriter can cost anywhere between a few hundred dollars and a few thousand dollars, depending on how well it works, its age and its general condition.
For example, you can typically buy a vintage Underwood typewriter, made in the early 1900s, for around $500, but the cost can hit as high as $2,000 depending on the shop and quality of the machine.
In need of repair
Angie’s List member Rolf Scholz of Columbus, Indiana, hired Indiana Typewriting Company when he needed an electrical typewriter fixed. His wife bought him the typewriter as a gift before the time of PCs and computer printers, he says.
“I mainly use this typewriter for typing odd-shaped address labels, formats that aren’t stored in Microsoft Word,” he says, adding he considers himself an enthusiast of all sorts of old machinery, from cameras to cars.
Scholz rarely uses the typewriter, which caused the need for repair, he says. “This is actually one of the problems; if you don’t use these typewriters regularly, the oil that lubricates the mechanical parts dries out, and the keys and typing elements will stick,” he says. “Aside from that, parts are fairly readily available through online vendors.”
You can still find new typewriters in retail stores and online, and they range in price from $199 to $400, Crewes says. He sees the typewriters’ days as numbered, but expects the machines to last as long as companies make the replacement parts. In the meantime, Crews still plans to fix and sell typewriters for as long as needed, he says. “I haven’t gotten away from it yet.”
Typewriter cleaning 101
Have a working typewriter you want to keep clean? These household items may come in handy:
• For a general wipe down during your weekly cleaning, use a damp cotton rag.
• Use a damp Q-tip to clean hard-to-reach areas in your typewriter, but don’t get the Q-tip too wet. That could damage the mechanics of the machine.
• A soft toothbrush can clean hard to reach h crevices of your typewriter.
• Spray air out of a compressed air cans to clean typewriter keys the same as you do to clean computer keyboards.
Also, don’t forget to press each key during cleaning. Keys can stick when unused for a period of time.