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Staten Island Typewriter Repairman Dreams of Machine's Return to Glory

By Nicholas Rizzi | August 28, 2012 8:29am

STATEN ISLAND — For some people, typewriters are a machine of the past, long ago replaced by computers.

But for New Springville resident Michael Ardito, they're a passion.

"Typewriters are a passion for me," said the 61-year-old. "I love working on them."

The Brooklyn native has repaired and sold the machines for over 40 years, after developing his passion at 13, when he received one for his birthday. When it broke, and his cousin came over to repair it, he became hooked. "I saw the tools and I loved it," he said. "I wanted to fix typewriters."

Currently Ardito sells vintage typewriters from his home, advertising his machines in the Yellow Pages, and with a sign out in the front yard of his house on the residential Rockland Avenue.

Though he realizes it may be a fantasy, he hopes that one day, he may be able to move away from his modern-day work — fixing copy machines, office printers and fax machines at a business he owns — and returning to his great love, which he stopped doing professionally when the need for typewriter repairs dried up more than a decade ago.

"I don't think the market can get any smaller, it can only get bigger," he said. "I think it's going to be... not a big booming business, but there is some interest in it, more than there was a decade or so ago."

Dozens of typewriters, mostly manual, line the shelves of Ardito's cramped workspace. The machines generally date back to the 20s to 70s, and he takes pride in even having models that match the kinds famous writers have used, like Woody Allen and Cormac McCarthy.

When Ardito gets a machine, which he often finds at garage sales around the Philadelphia area, he puts in more than 10 hours of work to restore it to its former glory. Sometimes people just leave them on his doorstep, he said.

Since most of the old machines still work to a degree, he tries to make them feel and type as smoothly as they worked on they day they were first bought.

"The machines were made to last, what the engineers thought [was], forever," he said.

First, he cleans the typewriter with a brush, then fixes any keys that are sticking and removes the rust. He looks then for imperfections, like broken or misplaced keys, rubs oil on the parts to stop the deterioration, and gets ready to put them for sale.

"They take a lot of time and effort to clean," he said.

He sells the restored machines for around $200 and up, and the money goes back into the labor he puts into them, Ardito said.

"It's not really the typewriter," he said of the costs. "It's the labor that's involved to get it back" to original condition, he said.

His customers include writers, nostalgic people who grew up using typewriters, and grandparents wanting to get one for their teenage grandchildren as a gift.

Many writers become attached to their typewriters and can't work on anything else, Ardito said.

"People connect with a typewriter, like a bowler may connect with a bowling ball and a pool player may connect with a pool cue," he said. "A writer, once he gets used to his typewriter, that's all he or she wants to write on."

Whenever possible, when he buys a machine, he likes to hear the story of the typewriter's life from the owner.

From machines owned by former typing teachers in Staten Island high schools, to an old Hermes with Cyrillic letters used in an import-export capacity, Ardito said he liked hearing the stories, and some customers enjoyed knowing the former life of the typewriter.

"The next person who owns the machine, if they know a little bit about the person who owned it, sometimes they like it," he said. "And I think it's pretty cool, too."

And while he said he doesn't keep any of the machines, he does become attached to some while he works on them.

"As I'm working on them I get somewhat attached to them," he said, even though he knows their fate. "I let them go," Ardito said. "It's sort of like they become adopted."