He’s just the type to tap into fad

Typewriter revival has its repairman

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If you looked up "lonely" in the dictionary, you'd expect to see a picture of John Tavares standing next to the Maytag repairman.

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 22/06/2012 (3755 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

If you looked up “lonely” in the dictionary, you’d expect to see a picture of John Tavares standing next to the Maytag repairman.

The 72-year-old fixes typewriters for a living, making him the blacksmith of the modern age. But Tavares, who owns J.F.T. Typewriters and Office Equipment, says he’s as busy as he needs to be. In fact, typewriters are experiencing a bit of a renaissance.

“It’s mostly old people like me,” he says. “But it’s younger people too, university students, people in their 20s and 30s.”

COLE BREILAND / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS John Tavares, in his Portage Avenue shop, picks a typing ball for an IBM Selectric from among the many parts on his rack.

His Portage Avenue storefront is filled with typewriters and typewriter parts. He’s got the antiques on a table just inside the door. The 1906 Fox (the company went out of business in 1921) is completely refurbished. The carriage return slides like new. That one will cost the right buyer about $400.

He bought the 1909 Remington after seeing an ad in the paper. It was rusty and in need of serious repair. Today, it clacks satisfactorily, the black paint on the wooden space bar worn partially away by thousands of hard strikes.

Tucked behind the typewriters is a long-play record. If you’ve still got a turntable, Dorothy Hayden could teach you to touch-type in no time.

If you grew up using a typewriter, this is like a visit to Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. The old keys strike the paper hard. The sound is that of business underway. Early newsrooms were a cacophony of sound. Today, they’re a whisper as college-educated journalists tap away on computer keyboards in near-silence.

People collect typewriters the way they collect anything. Tavares says he knows only one serious collector in Winnipeg, but adds there’s a resurgence of interest in the machines.

“The young people, they buy them at Salvation Army and they bring them to be fixed up. They’ve got two or three.”

He shrugs at the renewed popularity.

“They start typing, they like it.”

He learned his trade as a young man on Portugal’s Azores islands. He says he was lucky to find the job he was meant to do.

“Yes, I believe that,” he says, nodding his head in emphasis. “People today are looking for money. My father always said people who run because they love to run never get tired. I never get tired of my job.”

Tavares worked for a number of Winnipeg typewriter companies after coming to Winnipeg. In 1978, he was hired to maintain the University of Manitoba’s fleet of 2,000 typewriters. He opened his own business at the same time.

He adapted as technology changed, learning how to maintain laser printers, fax machines and copiers.

His 1,500-square-foot shop is filled with machines in various states of repair.

Upstairs, he’s got the guts of most typewriters manufactured. Cardboard rolls hold smooth platens. He nimbly grabs the typewriter ball for an IBM Selectric, a behemoth that shouted cutting-edge in the 1980s.

The tiny furnace room is stacked with flats of typewriter keys. He sells ribbons for most typewriters.

Tavares says his secret was always changing with the times.

“Any business only ends when the people are too lazy and don’t want to learn,” he says. “You have to keep learning, keep going. You’re never too old to learn.”

His customers include lawyers, accountants and pharmacists, he says. The latter use typewriters to make labels.

He maintains true writers favour typewriters over computers.

“On a typewriter, you have to stop and think about what you’re going to write. You pause, you take your time. You’re careful before you write that word.”

Tavares has a computer to keep track of things, but if he wants to write a letter, he’ll turn to a typewriter.

“I like to think about it,” he says.

He laughs when asked how fast he types.

“With both of my fingers? Technicians never learned how to type. I do one or two words a minute.”

He enjoys the permanence and reliability of a typewriter.

“It’s not like today. Today, everything is breaking every five to 10 minutes. A typewriter isn’t like that.”

He pats the 1906 Fox. That’s a machine for the ages.

Tavares is training a technician to take over his business. He’ll walk away knowing he helped lead the past into the future, one distinct key strike at a time.

lindor.reynolds@freepress.mb.ca

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