Here’s a paean to a vanishing breed – the typewriter repairman. Yes, there are a few left, but you might have to travel to New York to find one.
On a recent bleak, winter afternoon in the Flatiron District Paul Schweitzer was once again hard at work, trying to breathe life into a black, jazz-age Underwood typewriter. Behind his spectacles was a furrowed brow and behind that was a tangle of keys, steel, carrying cases and filing cabinets of rollers, spools, levers and keys, a morgue of mechanical guts.
To Schweitzer’s right, his son, Justin, performed a surgery of sorts on an IBM Wheelwriter, its beige frame cast aside and green electric boards splayed open. The smell of ink and WD-40 hung in the air, and only the occasional phone call or test clank of a machine’s keys interrupted their focus. The elder Schweitzer had spent the morning schlepping around the city with a black leather bag doing “house calls.” Some of Gramercy Typewriter Co.’s clients have had relationships with the company dating all the way back to its founding during the Great Depression.
Well aware of his status as a walking anachronism, Schweitzer, 76, now fixes approximately 20 typewriters a week. Some of them are used as props for movies or television shows recreating eras he was a part of, a fact that makes him laugh when he happens to see his machines while flipping through reruns. Schweitzer’s clientele, recorded in two boxes of handwritten notecards behind his desk, includes several high-profile names, including noted typewriter aficionado Tom Hanks.
“They don’t have a choice!” Schweitzer said, strolling through the two rooms of his office. He pointed at the wall of photographs and news clippings with weathered hands, which he concedes have been ink-stained since the Eisenhower administration.