Most days Tom Furrier is hunched over his workbench: clicking, clacking, and fixing.
Furrier owns Cambridge Typewriter Company. It's where people bring their typewriters to be repaired — malfunctioning motors, snapped ribbons, broken keys — Furrier has seen it all.
This year marks 50 years since it first opened. Furrier had just graduated college when he started working here.
“At the end of the very first day, this voice in my head said, 'This is it,' and I mean, like, this is it. I just knew right then and there that this is what I was going to be doing,” said Furrier.
Furrier fell in love with typewriters. He's always liked using his hands and finding solutions to people's problems.
“People are very picky about how the typewriter works. It kinda has to be just right for them,” said Furrier.
Furrier has been working with typewriters for nearly 40 years. His corner store has two rooms. In front, typewriters line the shelves from the floor to the ceiling. They're either for sale or waiting to be looked at. Some are covered in dust. Furrier says there is a backlog of typewriters to fix.
When he's ready for one, he brings it out back to his workbench. It's a windowless room. Tools and typewriters sit on shelves. There's a bulletin board in front of Furrier’s desk. He points to one handwritten note, saying he put it there on his very first day.
“My boss gave me a sheet of paper. He said, ‘Write this down — answer a question with a question,’” said Furrier. “And I'm looking at him, and he says, ‘Write it down,’ so I wrote it down.’
Furrier sits with his customers and types with them, trying to figure out what their typewriter isn’t doing that it should be doing. He asks them questions to get to know them and their machines.
Three quarters of the typewriters Furrier fixes are manual ones. It hasn't always been this way. Electric typewriters were the craze up until the 1980s. They died in popularity when computers came on the scene.
That changed around 2001, says Furrier, when manual typewriters had a resurgence. Furrier had never fixed manual typewriters.
“So I had to learn from scratch and that was just, staying late at night, taking them apart, putting them back together again, over and over again until, you know, I had figured it out,” said Furrier. “Now I can say that I can fix just about everything.”
Furrier works on an electric typewriter that needs a new keyboard. He says the majority of vintage typewriter parts aren't manufactured new. For this, he digs through a collection of old typewriters. It's what he calls his graveyard. He salvages a lot of electric parts there too.
“It's in my garage and in my family room, and I mean, like, you know, a couple hundred typewriters,” said Furrier. “I have a very understanding wife who supports me. It's just like taking over a house.”
Furrier removes that broken keyboard and replaces it with another one from the graveyard. He peers over his glasses as he clicks the new parts in place.
“I always tell everyone that when they get it back, the best thing they could possibly do for their machine is use it as much as you can — keeps everything, you know, the oil and the grease and everything, running nice and smooth.”
There aren't a lot of places like this anymore. Furrier gets repair orders from around the country. Stacked next to his workbench are boxes of thank you letters. He fingers through the top box and retrieves one from a customer in Charlotte, North Carolina.
“Dear Tom, thank you again for all your help in getting the yellow vogue running right — great action on this one and I feel lucky to have it,” reads Furrier from the thank you letter.
Furrier fixes his own typewriters, too. He owns 20. He types letters and notes on them. He also has a blog [called "Life in a Typewriter Shop"]. He types each entry, scans the pages into a computer, and puts them online as PDFs.
Furrier has been at the shop six days a week for decades. He could see himself taking some days off — but until then he'll be at the shop and behind his bench — clicking and clacking.
Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that one of Furrier's customer's is in Charlotte, North Carolina, not Charlottesville, a city in Virginia.