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Old typewriters appeal to young kids

Host Intro: Not all kids are into the most up-to-the-minute technology. For some, vintage technology has its charm. An old-fashioned shop in Arlington is appealing to a surprising new group of customers.

Kezia Simister has this report.

KEZIA SIMISTER: Walk by the Cambridge Typewriter Company on Massachusetts Avenue and you'll probably stop. The manual typewriters in the window from the late eighteen and early nineteen hundreds catch your eye. Walk in and you could hear . . .

KEZIA SIMISTER: In the small dimly lit store there are dozens of these mechanical dinosaurs - their circular keytops, lanky typebars, and beautifully lacquered metal bodies rest on the shelves. The oldest one is from 1888.

Owner, Tom Furrier, says he gets a lot of business from writers and elderly people - but in recent years he's noticed a surprising group of new customers.

TOM FURRIER: I get a big kick out the parents that bring their kids in here. I have had several dads bring their 10 or 12 year old boy or girl and the dad will come in with his head down — he wont even look at me — he'll just say, "my kid likes old things for some reason they want to buy a typewriter." And I'll look at the kid and I'll give him a wink 'cause I know they get it and the dad doesn't.

KEZIA SIMISTER: In a store full of antiques you might expect the owner to be a relic himself. But Furrier is only fifty two. He bought the Cambridge Typewriter Company from his boss in 1990 and moved it to Arlington, just nine years after the personal computer was born.

TOM FURRIER: I made up my mind early on that I didn't want to fix computers, or printers or fax machines, or any of that stuff, I just wanted to fix typewriters.

KEZIA SIMISTER: To stay in business Furrier spends mornings visiting companies in the Boston area, servicing the one typewriter that most offices still have reserved for printing addresses on envelopes. In the afternoons he's tinkering with the machines in his shop or chatting with a customer.

TOM FURRIER: Your favorite machine had a ton of problems which you probably already knew about. I was able to address them all.KEZIA SIMISTER: One of his customers is thirteen-year-old Sam Doran. Doran recently brought his two 1940s typewriters to the shop for a cleaning. He inherited his typewriters from the Lexington town historian. And he uses them a lot, to write letters and even to draft articles for Lexington's Colonial Times newspaper.

TOM FURRIER: feel the difference on that?
SAM DORAN: yeah
TOM FURRIER: big difference
SAM DORAN: very big

KEZIA SIMISTER: Doran isn't a technophob. Like most teenagers, he does his homework on the computer and likes surfing the internet. But, he bemoans modern gadgets that wind up in the dumpster after a few years. He'd rather plunk away on the Portable Royal Quiet Deluxe that was born more than half a century before he was.

SAM DORAN: on the computer you are always tempted to email or go on the internet you drift away from task at hand. You have more time to think, it isn't as quick, you aren't messing around with the font and line spacing — all your focus is on just writing.

KEZIA SIMISTER: Doran is in good company. Famous writers such as Danielle Steel and David McCullough still use manual typewriters.

The sounds are important to customers too. The slapping of keys and rolling of paper - and especially the bell.

Furrier says a clear high pitch ring can make the difference.TOM FURRIER: I had a girl come in with her mom and she was buying one for 16th birthday and she spent an hour and a half to 2 hours — trying each machine and she could not make up her mind. In the end it was the bell that sold here.

KEZIA SIMISTER: And while the kids alone aren't keeping Furrier in business - they are proof that we have yet to hear the typewriters last taps.

For WBUR, I'm Kezia Simister.

This program aired on November 26, 2007. The audio for this program is not available.

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