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This Is Uncomfortable

Typewriters, somehow, still in demand

Adam Ragusea Nov 14, 2013
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MACON, Ga. – Just because a business is dying doesn’t make it dead; if there’s a little water left in a sponge, you can bet someone will wring it for all it’s worth. For instance, there are still people who make a living selling typewriters.

We’re talking about the electronic business typewriters that remain favored by law offices, funeral parlors, and anybody else who has to fill out lots of forms or make labels.

Nicole Goyette works for a small business services company that handles a lot of tax paperwork they prefer to do on a typewriter. “We also have a lady that comes in and does our filing for us — and she is of the, um, older generation, which I affectionately call ‘alumni,’” she said, laughing. “And she’s also more comfortable using the typewriter.”

The problem is almost nobody makes them anymore. IBM got out of the typewriter business two decades ago and now only Nakajima in Japan is still going.

So, Goyette brought her company’s old Brother machine to Progressive Methods in Decatur, Ga. for a refit. The repair cost $37.50 — small potatoes, said Progressive Methods owner Jim Riegert. His real bread and butter is in the warehouse.

“So we’ve got 2,000 or so IBM typewriters, Wheelwriter typewriters,” Riegert said as pointed to a seemingly endless stack of beige boxes, reminiscent of the last scene in “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”

“This is our core business for Typewriters.com,” Riegert said. His company sells about 1,500 of these models — refurbished — every year from their website with its valuable domain name. The little nine-person shop at Progressive Methods accounts for about a third of the domestic typewriter market, he estimated.

The particular IBM Wheelwriter design in which Riegert specializes was introduced in 1985 — a classic that never really needed updating. “This one is really nice because it’s easy to change the ribbon and the correction tape,” Riegert said.

Except, they’re getting tougher to find.

Riegert has a whole network of guys across the Southeast who snatch them up from estate sales and business liquidation auctions. He has just invested in a state-of-the-art 3D printer to make the spare parts he needs. 

The historical irony is just too good.

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