by Drui Caldwell
“I’ve had three other businesses before, but this is the oddest one yet,” Bryan Kravitz said.
In this day in age of computers and Smartphones, Philadelphia native Bryan Kravitz buys, sells and repairs typewriters and accepts hand-offs. Yes, the old boxy machines into which we had to manually load paper and hear the loud clacking sounds of the keys as they punched letters onto a page. Practically The Middle Ages.
Kravitz, 67, always had a deep connection to these antique machines. Located on 6819 Greene St. (at Carpenter Lane) is the shop, Moving Arts of Mt. Airy, and inside is Philly Typewriter, where he meets with customers on Tuesdays and Saturdays from 2 to 6 p.m. or by appointment. When you walk in through the old fashioned storefront, you will find a display of vintage typewriters that date all the way back to the early 1900s.
His passion for typewriters started at the age of 18 when he and a friend ventured out to California in the summer. Unlike his friend, Kravitz had no plan; he had never taken any academic courses and had no idea how he was going to sustain himself.
“While I was living in California, I found work in a printing shop, and one day a professor came in who needed some work done. He handed me a brochure for a trade school in San Francisco to learn how to fix typewriters. I fell in love with it. I thought it was the greatest thing and spent the next few years taking them apart and repairing them.”
After refining this skill, Kravitz found a job maintaining typewriters for the libraries of University of California at Berkley, became an electric typewriter mechanic at IBM and started his own business in California called You’re My Type. “With enough practice,” he recalled, “even the IBM Selectric with its 1500 parts was no longer daunting.”
(The concept of a typewriter dates back at least to 1714, when Englishman Henry Mill filed a vaguely worded patent for “an artificial machine or method for impressing or transcribing of letters singly or one after another.” But the first typewriter that actually worked was constructed by an Italian, Pellegrino Turri, in 1808 for his blind friend, Countess Carolina Fantoni. Specimens of Fantoni’s actual letters are still extant. Commercial production did not begin until 1870 in Denmark with a typewriter made by a minister, Rasmus Malling Hansen.)
Once computers became commonplace, though, typewriters started to become obsolete. “People started realizing the values of computers around the ‘80s, and as time went on, I found I had less business.”
As a result, Kravitz went back to school in the 1990s and started to learn about and work with computers, but he realized he didn’t have that same passion he felt when he was working with typewriters. He began to feel he was only working to make money.
Kravitz describes how using a typewriter is a purer way of writing. “Writers like using typewriters,” Kravitz said. “It eliminates distraction. It wasn’t until I read an article about Edward Snowden a couple years ago, in which he said, ‘You can’t keep secrets on a computer; you better go back to typewriters.’ This was the first time I had seen the word ‘typewriter’ in modern times.”
Kravitz began thinking about starting up another business in Philadelphia. He spent a year and half debating if this was something he really wanted to do. He then met the owner of Moving Arts of Mt. Airy, Pamela Rogow. “She was able to give me this spot here, and I found that we can both agree that using a typewriter is a more cathartic style of writing.”
The typewriter maven also discussed how typewriters are starting to resurface and become fascinating to children. “Children think these are the bees’ knees. They like to just run their fingers over the keyboard and type away. At this point in my life, I stay as busy as I want, and it’s really nice here in Mt. Airy.”
Drui Caldwell, a Mt. Airy resident, is a Journalism major at Temple University who is involved with the school’s newspaper, The Temple News, and the photography club, Aperture Agency. She hopes to study abroad in London next year.