Q: I have an IBM Selectric 3 typewriter. I’m looking for somebody that can service it. The main thing is that certain keys stick. I use a computer for most things, but there are times when I want to address an envelope or send a card.
I used it when I worked for Congressman Jim Olin and when he closed his office [in 1993] we were given the chance to buy the machines so I did. I had a man quote me a price of $200 to fix it once, but I think his shop is closed now.
Kathy Ratliff, Roanoke
A: Kathy, this is a tough one. Since the arrival of personal computers, the typewriter has almost gone the way of the whale oil lamp, public pay phones, telegraphs, 8-track tapes, video rental stores, carbon paper and mimeograph machines.
This saddens me, especially because the smell of mimeograph/ditto fluid returns me to the third grade with Miss Molly Mehagan, my teacher and first love. The way she handed me that slightly damp paper with the purply ink as she passed by my desk brings me right back to Crestview Elementary School. I can still smell those vaguely sweet chemicals filling my nostrils as I draw them in deeply.
I always thought we’d marry, Molly Mehagan and me, and we’d create our wedding invitations with ballpoint pens on carbon paper and make copies by running them through the inky rollers together. But I digress.
As promised, here’s the contact information for Glenn Moore at Roanoke Typewriter Sales: 540.345-6840
Here’s a link to the NY Times essay by Tom Hanks on why he loves typewriters. And I’ll post Duncan Adams’ 2010 story on typewriter repairman extraordinaire Glenn Moore here too:
He’s that rare type
Summary: Glen Moore of Roanoke Typewriter Sales Co. still repairs those pre-digital dinosaurs of carriage returns and ribbons.<
A framed, faded cartoon rests atop one of the store’s two battleship-gray desks.
The drawing depicts a man with a ball cap seated next to a bedraggled bird. Behind them and several rows of chairs a large sign reads “Endangered Species Meeting.”
The man says to the bird. “Oh, you’re a red-bellied tern? Me? I repair typewriters.”
Glenn Moore, 67, repairs typewriters at his store on East Campbell Avenue in downtown Roanoke. He sells them too — along with cash registers, time clocks, typewriter ribbons and other supplies for business machines.
Business is slow.
The phone rings.
Moore does not say “Roanoke Typewriter Sales Co.” or “Commercial Office Equipment,” although he usually says one or the other. He’s been out sick and is a bit rusty. This omission seems to throw the caller from Clifton Forge. But only momentarily. She inquires about a Smith-Corona typewriter.
“I don’t think they even make them anymore,” Moore says. “Smith-Corona might be one of those companies that is way gone.”
Like Royal and Remington, Franklin, Hermes and Underwood.
Smith-Corona still has a Web site, which appears to sell typewriter ribbons, manuals and parts.
The Norfolk & Western Railway favored the Underwood.
Moore fields a few more Smith-Corona questions.
“We try to work on them when we can. Uh-huh. That can probably be fixed, yeah. I suggest you call first since you are out of town.”
Moore says “we.” But he is Roanoke Typewriter’s sole employee. He staffs the store five days a week, usually from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. But he ventures out for service calls or anything else that grabs his fancy.
“I had a guy tell me the other day, ‘When you said you were in and out, you really meant it.’ I told him if I don’t have anything to do, I go fishing.”
Shoes on the desktop
During three hours of interviews over two days the phone rang five times at Roanoke Typewriter Sales. Two calls, one per day, came from Moore’s wife, Vivian. They married in 1966, five years after his graduation from Jefferson High School, and have a son, Todd, who is 42 years old and works for Barrows Office Supplies.
“She calls around this time every day to make sure I’m still kicking,” Moore said.
He jokes about how far from harried he is and how rarely the phone rings. An interesting mix of people straggle by the store’s big windows but few even glance inside.
“If [business] gets any better, I’m going to have to get an unlisted phone number,” Moore said, leaning back in his desk chair. “If I really want to tick people off, I sit here like this with my feet on the desk.”
Seconds later, the 3 p.m. work-shift steam whistle blew at the railroad shops just across the avenue.
Moore remembers when Norfolk Southern Corp. railroad workers in large numbers spilled out at quitting time. He recalls the aroma of roasting coffee from nearby Woods Brothers Coffee Co.
“I find I’m getting nostalgic,” he said.
The Roanoke Typewriter building stands in the shadow of the Interstate 581 bridge over Campbell Avenue.
Prostitutes once worked the area, formerly a meatpacking district.
“It was like Dodge City,” Moore recalled. “It was wide open. Twenty-four hours. People would stop and pick them up in a company truck. It got old.”
Monsour Saleeba Jr. and Moore go back about 40 years.
Saleeba strolled in Monday afternoon. He visits about three times a week. He calls Moore “Bucky” and Moore calls him “Junior.” They rib each other with relish and humor.
Moore opened a file cabinet drawer and ruffled folders.
“He’s acting like he’s busy now to make an impression,” Saleeba said.
Moore showed him an ancient Franklin typewriter with a curved keyboard.
“God, almighty,” Saleeba said. “I think that thing was made before Columbus’ time.”
Saleeba’s family once ran Roanoke Electric Co., a retail appliance store on Campbell Avenue.
Roanoke Typewriter has always been family owned and operated. Moore’s stepfather, the late Forest “Pat” Morgan, founded the business, first housed on Church Avenue. Moore’s parents divorced when he was young. He had little contact afterward with his biological father, a railroad man, and grew up in Southeast Roanoke.
He does not know when Morgan launched the business but recalls him talking about sales being good during the Great Depression.
Moore was a teenager when he started working at Roanoke Typewriter.
“This is the only job I’ve ever had,” he said.
The writing is on the platen. The carriage is thrown.
Moore stocks “about a half dozen” new Swintec electronic typewriters. A few clients, including law firms, still use electronic typewriters. Other businesses and individuals inquire about repairs.
He tinkers occasionally on the Texas Tavern’s “price-set” cash register. Matt Bullington is president of the regionally famous family-owned diner.
Every menu item has a designated key. One for a Cheesy Western, one for a hot dog and so on.
“Every now and then the register needs some maintenance,” Bullington said. “I take it down to Glenn. He’s a nice fellow. He has an interesting demeanor. Sometimes I think, ‘What am I going to do when this fellow closes his business?’ ”
The demeanor thing.
Moore’s humor is dry. Deadpan. Effective.
His knowledge of typewriters and other business machines is obviously expert. But he doesn’t seem obsessed about it all. He said he has no idea about the value of the antique typewriters he owns. And does not seem to care.
His curiosity ranges far and wide. He loves to visit museums.
Basically, although it’s always hard to know for sure, he seems like a man who is genuinely content.
Which is not to say he lacks feeling about the slide of stores like his.
Paul Robert, a typewriter historian, created the “Virtual Typewriter Museum” Web site. Robert said his educated guess “would be that the peak period for manual typewriters was between 1930 and 1960,” and he said electronic typewriters no longer “play a significant role in the office machine market.”
Roanoke Typewriter cleared about $25,000 last year, Moore said.
“It’s going to reach a point where the expenses are going to be greater than the profits, and that’s going to be the demise,” he said.
Moore said he probably could do a bit more business if he really tried.
“But I don’t have anybody to sell the business to or give it to.”
He glanced over at his old friend Saleeba.
Moore said he’s not ready to quit.
“There’s a social aspect to me working,” Moore said. “I don’t know what would replace that.”
Online: www.typewritermuseum.org http://site.xavier.edu/polt/typewriters/
Illustration: Photos by ERIC BRADY The Roanoke Times – 1. Glenn Moore, owner of Roanoke Typewriter Sales Co., works on an IBM Selectric in the basement of his Campbell Avenue store. “It’s going to reach a point where the expenses are going to be greater than the profits and that’s going to be the demise,” Moore said. 2. Moore’s business stands beneath the Interstate 581 bridge over Campbell Avenue downtown. The building supports two billboards visible to interstate drivers. 3. This antique Franklin typewriter with a curved keyboard is a collector’s item. 4. This Underwood Standard typewriter was made by Underwood Typewriter Co. of New York City. Of it, the Virtual Typewriter Museum says, “this excellently designed machine deserves a place of honor as the first truly modern typewriter that set the standard for typewriter design for decades to come.”