A candy apple red Olivetti manual typewriter, circa 1960s — its keys white like the stripe splashed across the Corvette convertible of the same shade and era — draws you into Kensington Office Machines. Touch the keys and the tiny metal slugs tap-dance across the page: an irresistible lure for anyone who walks into the store.
Store owner and technician Jimmy Fasusi encourages visitors to try out the typewriters with the gentle indulgence of a fellow hobbyist. Although much of his business involves repairing more modern equipment, such as copy machines, printers and tablets, manual typewriters are his passion.
Fasusi’s father, a judge, “used his typewriter to type his briefs, his decisions. I used to play around his typewriter, but he wouldn’t let us go close to it — that’s when I first got interested in them.”
And a lucky thing, too, for typewriter owners in the area, as well as businesses that still hew to the machines: Kensington Office Machines is one of the last typewriter-repair holdouts in the region.
Trained as an engineer in his native Nigeria before immigrating to the United States in the 1980s, Fasusi was a sales director at the now-defunct Circuit City before buying Kensington Office Machines 10 years ago. Of the 10 technicians employed by the business, only he and two others know how to fix manual typewriters. The Kensington, Md., shop has seen a decline over the years in typewriters serviced, from an estimated 5,000 per month 15 years ago to 115 typewriters per month today.
His typewriter-repair clientele has diminished in number but not intensity. Those who use the old manuals are fiercely devoted to them.
“People feel very special about their typewriters,” Fasusi says. “We’ve had writers, professors, people bring in their typewriters; they tell us they love their machine.”
For those who still run true to type, the business is invaluable. The largest category of customers is older people who don’t want to switch to computers. “Seniors still use their typewriters,” Fasusi says. “They type their checks, envelopes, letters to grandkids, so that’s very important to them.”
Sometimes Fasusi’s younger technicians ask whether it’s necessary to keep fixing typewriters that are all but obsolete.
“Some of our customers, we’ve been dealing with them for years,” he says. “They’ve been coming here, bringing their machines. . . . Now that they can’t walk, we go to their homes, and the customers are very happy to see [us].”
Certain businesses continue to use typewriters as well, Fasusi says, chiefly for forms. The store’s technicians service multiple law offices. There are also typewriters in use at the White House, the Pentagon and several area corporations, including Marriott International, he says.
The rise of vintage chic fostered by Web sites such as Pinterest and Etsy has led to a spike in customers who rent typewriters for more romantic purposes: “They want to type their wedding vows,” Fasusi says. “It’s more unique, more personal that way.”
Customers from as far as Russia and South America have asked Kensington Office Machines to ship the typewriters the store sells on its Web site. They’re motivated, Fasusi thinks, by concerns over government surveillance of online activity. The store has also had requests from Hollywood to borrow typewriters for Civil War-era films, and from time to time National Geographic borrows typewriters to use for historical documentaries.
Fasusi owns and uses an Olympia manual typewriter similar to the one his father once owned. Unlike his father, he encourages his two young children to play with it. “They love it,” he says. “They want to see the mechanism, they want to see those levers moving around. They just want to type.”