- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 11, 2005

The clicking and dinging of the typewriter has all but vanished from businesses and homes across the U.S. thanks to its replacement — the muted clacking of the modern keyboard.

Now that the machines are gathering dust in corners, repairmen who once made a living tinkering with them are left with nothing but a passion for the trade.

“The typewriter is our love, it’s our history, but it’s a matter of not being able to afford a K Street venue anymore,” said Ron North, owner of North’s Office Machines in Northwest, who began to move his store into the basement of his house yesterday.

Mr. North, who took over the company from his father in 1969, said he sold the building to a bank because he didn’t have enough business to stay open. He still plans to work on typewriters from home and says there is still a need for the typewriter, despite the growing popularity of computers.

Typewriters “get periodic use for a certain form that’s costly to do on a computer. A lot of banks and law firms use them for labels and envelopes,” he said.

At the height of business during the 1980s, Mr. North had close to 300 typewriters in his store waiting to be repaired. Now the number has trickled down to one or two a week.

“People who still use typewriters are older; more romantic writers use them. No one is writing ‘Moby Dick’ on a typewriter these days,” he said.

The arrival of the electric typewriter in the late 1960s led many people to replace their older, slower machines with the newer models. But as computers became less expensive and easier to use, even the need for electric typewriters dwindled.

Patti Murphy, the owner of Accurate Business Machines in Wheaton, said she still reserves a small part of her business for typewriter repair.

“We’re mostly an office-supply store, but we see about five or six typewriters a year that need repairs,” she said.

She said the majority of repairs are on machines for seniors who never got the hang of working on a computer.

“People love their machines. Writers come in, and the only way they can write is to hear the click-clacking noise,” she said.

That clickety-clacking noise is what Dave Jones misses the most about typewriters. Mr. Jones owned United Office Machine Services in Brandywine for 30 years, until he was forced to close last year because of rising costs.

“As business slowed down, it got to a point where it wasn’t worth keeping it open anymore and I had to bring it all back to my house. I went from making a good living to a poor living,” he said.

As the computer industry grew, he watched his company drop from 15 technicians to one in a year and a half. He still has “about 10 or so” old typewriters that he plans to fix up or sell for parts.

“I feel like a blacksmith when they invented the car. It’s just me and my dinosaurs now,” he said.

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