Streams

Niche Market | Typewriters

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

(Daniel P. Tucker)

New York is a city of specialists from foodies to academics, laborers to shopkeepers. Every Wednesday, Niche Market takes a peek inside a different specialty store and showcases the city's purists who have made an art out of selling one commodity. Slideshow below.

Gramercy Office Equipment Company
174 5th Avenue #400
New York, NY 10010

In his 52 years of selling and repairing typewriters, Paul Schweitzer has had to adapt to changing technology more than once. In the 1960s, when new IBM Selectrics that applied ink with typeballs instead of type bars hit the market, he learned to fix them. Later, he learned to service laser printers and fax machines to keep the typewriter biz afloat.

Now he's learning to deal with something else entirely: new business.

"It's swinging back around to typewriters," Schweitzer, 72, said. "The younger people are sort of rediscovering an old manual — the Royal, the Underwood, the Olivetti, or a Remington typewriter."

In the mid-2000s, only a quarter of his revenue came from typewriters, but in the last five years, as typewriter shops closed and laser printers were replaced by multi-function machines that could fax, print, and copy, a new, younger customer base emerged. Now 50 percent of his business comes from typewriters, including the five to 10 house calls Schweitzer makes each day — tool bag in hand — to companies from Harlem to the Battery.

"You might see the computers, but there's still occasional typewriters scattered around people's offices," said Schweitzer, who still wears a shirt and tie to work every day. "I go to some of the largest corporations here in the City of New York. Big banks, big insurance companies, publishing houses."

In his two-room office across from the Flatiron Building, Schweitzer works with his son Justin, 43, and one other employee. 

The front room is an all-in-one lobby, showroom and storeroom where 10 to 20 customers drop in each day to browse, drop off machines and talk shop.

"The ribbons I use are kind of growing extinct," said Gregory McGee, a walk-in who needed the part for his Smith-Corona electric typewriter. "These people here are the only people that has the kind of ribbons it uses."

Display cases are filled with portable typewriters — Sterling, Olympia, Remington, Royal and Olivetti models — that sell for $95 to $395. They are blue or pink or black, and all were cleaned and re-calibrated by father and son, including the oldest machine in the room, a 1915 Corona.

The back room, with its fourth-floor windows open to the noise of Fifth Avenue, could be called the heart of the operation.

"This is our workshop," Paul Schweitzer said. "Where we're actually doing the cleanings and oilings of the machines."

Walls of inventory close in around a simple wooden workbench piled with needle nose pliers, screwdrivers, brushes and rags used to calibrate and clean typewriters and their cases.

"Machines could be sitting around for decades," Justin Schweitzer said. "We see machines come in really dirty, really cluttered with a lot of dust and debris." He said some are even filled with cobwebs.

One battered metal filing cabinet is filled with parts for IBM Selectric and wheelwriter typewriters like ribbon plates, tab cords, carriage return cords and screws and washers — parts needed to bring a rusty, old typewriter back to working order.

It's amazing what a chemical bath and new rollers and ribbons can do for a decades-old typewriter that spent years sitting in someone's attic or garage. The Schweitzers believe their attention to detail and customer service is what's kept the business alive all these years.

Justin plans to take over the family business when his father eventually retires.

Interview with Paul Schweitzer of Gramercy Office Equipment Company.

You've been in this space for four and a half years, but you were in the other building for 48 years?

Yes. We spent about 47 years in the Flatiron Building. Of course, my father started this in 1932 and he had a small shop in the Gramercy Park area, and that's where he got the name Gramercy Typewriter Company. Over the last many years, because we've expanded into HP printer, fax machines, we also have the name of Gramercy Office Equipment Company. Fixing the HP printers, I don't want to get a bill from Gramercy Typewriter Company.

Do you like this shop compared to the old one?

I think I've gotten used to this location. I find this to be, maybe, a little bit better than across the street in the Flatiron Building. There in the Flatiron Building, it's a very busy building. With the elevators, there were five elevators, but because there were 20 or 21 floors in the building, you were always waiting for the elevators. It's a busy building. I was up on the eighth floor. I found myself running down eight flights a number of times during the day, just I couldn't wait for the elevators anymore. Here, in this building, I'm on the fourth floor, and the elevator goes a little bit quicker.

How old are some of these typewriters you're doing work on?

A lot of the typewriters are these portable, manual typewriters that we have for some and that people bring in. A great majority are brought in by the younger people, who are sort of rediscovering an old manual — the Royal, the Underwood, the Olivetti, or a Remington typewriter. They bring them to us and they have to be cleaned and washed and completely gone over to put them into tip-top condition, and I'm still doing that. Much to my surprise, a lot of the younger kids still want them.

Daniel P. Tucker/WNYC

Two typewriters, a black Royal portable machine from the 1930s and a portable Royal Quiet De Luxe from the 1950s with green keys, dry out on top of the New York Post after being meticulously cleaned.

Daniel P. Tucker/WNYC

Paul Schweitzer types on a Corona Four portable typewriter from the 1920s.

Daniel P. Tucker/WNYC

Walk-in customer Gregory McGee came looking for a ribbon for his Smith-Corona electric typewriter. "These people here are the only people that has the kind of ribbons it uses," he said, referring to the father-and-son team at Gramercy Office Equipment Company.

Daniel P. Tucker

A robin's egg blue Sterling portable typewriter.

Daniel P. Tucker/WNYC

Justin Schweitzer cleans a Royal portable from the early 1930s, one of that company's first models. He gave the machine a complete overhaul, including a new roller and ribbon and a chemical wash. "Machines could be sitting around for decades," he said. "We see machines come in really dirty, really cluttered with a lot of dust and debris."

Daniel P. Tucker/WNYC

The index cards in Paul Schweitzer's catalog list customers' addresses and info about their typewriters and the repairs made to them. The 72-year-old does not own a computer and does not use email. The company's website is maintained by his son Justin.

Daniel P. Tucker/WNYC

A blue-and-white Royal Sprite.

Daniel P. Tucker/WNYC

The Schweitzer workbench is piled with needlenose pliers, flathead and Phillips head screwdrivers, and various brushes, scouring tools, and rags used to calibrate and clean typewriters.

Daniel P. Tucker/WNYC

A Smith-Corona electric typewriter.

Daniel P. Tucker/WNYC

Cases for portable typewriters like the Royal Contour and the Olivetti #21 stacked up in the two-room digs at Gramercy Office Equipment Company.

Daniel P. Tucker/WNYC

Justin Schweitzer's house call bag is a sort of portable workbench filled with machine oil, typing elements, magnetic screwheads, label removers, and miniature flashlights for peering into typewriter nooks and crannies.

Daniel P. Tucker/WNYC

Gramercy Office Equipment Company was opened as Gramercy Typewriter by Paul Schweitzer's father in 1932. An old-school ethos prevails. Instead of Google spreadsheets stored in the cloud, Schweitzer uses a Rolodex for contacts and ledger books to track other business incidentals. No credit cards are accepted.

Daniel P. Tucker

An advertisement from an old Saturday Evening Post for Smith-Corona typewriters, which hangs in the front office room at Gramercy Office Equipment.

Daniel P. Tucker

Gramercy has been in its current building for four and a half years. For 48 years before that, the company was housed in the Flatiron Building across the street. The company was founded in the Gramercy neighborhood in 1932 by Paul Schweitzer's father.

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Comments [12]

Michael McGettigan from manhattan

If you like typewriters and the people who love them, you may enjoy the NYC Type-IN, "A pleasant afternoon of manual typewriting" on Sun., April 21, 1pm-4pm at Theater 80 in the East Village.

There will be a typing speed competition, a letter-typing session, Q&As with typewriter repair specialists and more.

FREE, with working manual typewriter OR stamped envelope.

Bring an extra typewriter to trade. (sorry, no electrics, manual only!)

for a little more info, please visit www phillytyper dot come

thanks
michael mcgettigan

Apr. 07 2013 01:04 AM
dougR from NYC

I grew up with manual typewriters and my first job after arriving in NYC in the late 60s was at a division of the Hearst Corporation, where manual typewriters were what you worked on; what everyone worked on, as far as I know. Some Royals, some Olympias, the occasional Remington--all serviced by a repair guy who came around weekly to clean the typebars, rollers and platens, and do whatever oiling and adjusting needed to be done. I still have an old black Royal Office Manual from probably the 1940s, and I think it's due for some service--glad to read about Gramercy, I'm sure I'll be paying them a visit.

Mar. 24 2013 09:03 PM
vintage typewriter shop from USA

I differ with a lot of people here; I found this blog post I couldn't cease till I finished, despite the fact that it wasn't just what I had been browsing for, was nonetheless a great read even though. I will instantaneously get your blog feed to keep in touch of any updates.

Jan. 29 2013 02:11 AM
chris g

I bought an Adler/Gabrielle that works like the day it was made. I bought it for five bucks at a Salvation Army thrift store.

Oct. 11 2012 11:13 PM
Mike Williams from Mount Sinai, Long Island

I was so happy to read about the People of Gramercy Typewriter Co. Mr. Paul Schweitzer and Justin remind me of my old Boss Mr. Franz Nicolay of ELITE OF SUFFOLK Typewriter Co. I took Service calls for 10 years in the 1990's and 80's on all the brands of machines,Great times till they closed up. I got my start in 1968 working full time with I. B. M. First just cleaning then training on Model B,C,D,Exec's Selectric 1, 2, 3,Correcting.I must of taken 10,000 Service Calls in Manhatten, N. Y. miss those days got stories to tell , could write a book. I'm retired now 66 years old. but still get a call now and then. Would love to hear from people and talk shop, glad younger people are taking an interest again. feel free to E- Mail at ( mikeandgrace67@hotmail.com ) Be Well, MIKE>

Jan. 04 2012 12:13 PM

Donna from Houston,
If you send me the photo, I will see what I can do. dtucker@wnyc.org. Cheers, Dan

Oct. 31 2011 03:47 PM
Donna from Houston, TX

I have a photo of an antique typewritter.
I am wondering if you could tell me what kind of type writer it is.

Oct. 30 2011 08:25 PM
Catherine Smith from NYC

Love this. Will probably buy a typewriter here
to replace the one I gave away. Reminds me
of my sewing machine mechanic who runs a
shop a stone's throw away. He keeps my
forty year old Singer ticking and throws in a
new motor when I wear out the old one. I
learned to type on a manual typewriter and
to compute on a comptometer then a
manual adding machine. Excellent training
for speedy and accurate typing and computing.

Oct. 24 2011 08:57 AM
JD Greene from New York

I agree with the last comment. This is the New York I grew up with. Great service and experts in what they do. This typewriter company is one of a kind !!! Friendly, knowledgeable, and courteous service. Junior is a pleasure to deal with. He carried my typewriter to my car, which was parked three blocks away. Are there any other places that give this type of great service anymore? I don't think so. Hope Gramercy stays around forever.

Oct. 19 2011 08:25 PM
Jen from NYC

This company is by far one of the best experiences I have had. The owner and son actually take the timne to spend with you, and answer all your questions. It's a real old time feel when you step in this place. Great service and even if you are new to the shop- they treat you like an old time customer. I had my typewriter repaired and cleaned by them, and when I picked it up, I almost did not recognize it. It looked like brand new--considering it was 50 years old. I bought a beautiful typewriter from them a few months back, and it works like a charm. This kind of service is rare nowadays, but this pleace is a pleasure to see. Some of the nicest looking typewriters I have ever seen. Wish every place I shop at was like this. New York has lost it's old school charm- but I am thankful a place like this still exists. Thank you Gramercy Typewriter Co.

Oct. 19 2011 07:03 PM
Jim from Brooklyn

It's a great store and I'm happy there's still a few old school seller/repairmen around. There's also a very cool, very packed, tiny antique shop in Williamsburg, Lovejoy Antiques, Roebling and (I believe) North 6th, that always has a very eclectic selection of cool typewriters, including the Ferrari-like MoMa honored Olivetti Valentine; they also have antique fountain pens and antique inks, for the absolute dinosaur-- 'probably the most interesting 150 square feet or so I've ever been in (I haven't seen Ian McShane there there, so far....). Also check out Fountain Pen Hospital down near City Hall. There also used to be a typewriter repairman on the upper Westside-- 'still there? Love the keys..........

Oct. 19 2011 04:06 PM
Tom Hunter from Indianapolis, Indiana

Paul is the Patron Saint of Typewriters. I have been in his shop many times and consider it a holy place. I have a Royal Manual from 1917 that is my pride and joy. I have used it to write all of the first drafts of my novels, including my most recent "The Butcher of Leningrad", (about homeless Russian children being using for organ transplants by the Russian Mafia).
Whenever I go to Gramercy, I try to find some excuse to spend money, to support the store. I told a 24-year-old co-worker at Bloomberg about Gramercy and he went out the next day and bought a typewriter.
The quality of writing on a manual typewriter is better than on a computer. It's a different medium, like oil and acrylic. Though I write software for a living, my most prized possession is my 1917 Royal manual. I use it every day. It works now as well as the day it was made.
Thank you, Paul, for everything.

Oct. 19 2011 12:36 AM

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