The "paperless office" prophesied in a 1960s marketing slogan has yet to arrive, and that's been fortunate for Typewriters Plus at 2501 State St., in Lafayette.
As its name suggests, the business specializes in typewriters – manual, electric and electronic – repairing them, maintaining them and selling select reconditioned models.
"I was that kid that always took things apart," said owner Jim Courter, laughing. "I wanted to see how they worked.”
That early interest in disassembling and reassembling alarm clocks, televisions and stereos developed into a career.
After apprenticing for a television repair shop as a high school senior, Courter worked for 13 years installing and servicing cash registers, across the state and beyond its borders.
That led to a job repairing and servicing typewriters and copying machines for a Lafayette-based company.
In the early 1990s, the company sold, and the former owner spun-off the typewriter repair part of the business into Typewriters Plus, in 1994.
Courter bought the company in 1998 – a time when typists used computers for the work previously done by typewriters. Much, but not all. Courter asserts that some office workers still insist the typewriter is the most efficient way to complete multipart forms and address envelopes.
"They can whip out an envelope faster than they can walk across the room, put it in a printer and print it out," he said.
Courter also works on computer towers and laptops, where removing malware and backing up files are the most common requests.
He’s also worked on braillers, specialized typewriters developed in the 1950s that print in the braille alphabet.
Another specialty is the IBM Selectric range.
“It’s hard to believe something that was designed and manufactured back in the mid '70s is still in use today, and is still serviced today,” Courter said.
Continued demand for its successor, the Wheelwriter, has prompted Courter to offer reconditioned machines in that line for sale.
He said that while he enjoys a challenge, most typewriters that cross his workbench just need a "cleaning, oiling – just a general maintenance.”
Surprisingly, although few typewriters are in production, the shop has a good supply of ribbons for the defunct models brought in by customers. "If not,” Courter said, “I can wind a ribbon onto their spools and get them going."
Courter said a common request is the restoration of a family heirloom or a tune-up for a secondhand machine.
Beyond office use, the general public still finds a variety of uses for typewriters.
A resurgence in popularity started in the past decade, among hipsters and couples who use manual typewriters as an alternative to traditional wedding guest books.
The computer might have ultimately imparted a sense of romanticism for typewritten text once reserved for the handwritten word.
"A typewritten letter,” Courter said, “as opposed to one printed out on a computer, is more personal.”
Courter has amassed his own collection of the machines, a selection of which are loaned out as props in local stage productions and for a role as the featured instrument in performances of "The Typewriter," by composer Leroy Anderson.
Whether it’s for romanticism, nostalgia or practicality, Courter said, "There's a generation of people out there that's always going to use a typewriter.”
Between service contracts with area offices, and walk-ins from new and repeat customers, business continues to be brisk.
“Seventeen or 18 years ago, people told me 'Aw, that career’s only going to last about five years and then there’ll be no typewriters left,’” he said. “Well, you never know. What goes around comes around.”