The typewriter mechanic was up to his neck in repairs.
Back in his workroom, he had a dozen machines needing care.
IBM Selectrics. A 1940 Royal Quiet Deluxe, Hemingway’s preferred model. And a 1965 turquoise Olivetti that would have the shine of a sports car after he was done with it.
Now, here came a customer displaying a Facit 1620, a stylish Swedish model, bought at an estate sale. The ribbon was dry as a bone, the keys unwilling to budge.
“And you want me to do something about it?” the typewriter mechanic happily asked, adding it to his pile.
The typewriter mechanic is always busy. In Philadelphia, Bryan Kravitz is among the last of a dying breed: a repairer of those wonderful machines that go click, clack, ding!
“I’m the only one around,” Kravitz said Tuesday afternoon in his Mount Airy showroom.
At least the only one listed in Philly who still answers his phone, as he likes to tell people.
(It's true. I checked.)
I’ve been planning on visiting the typewriter mechanic for a while. Sure, my old Royal needs work, but his window display had drawn me in. The display he keeps set up in a friend’s Queen Village storefront near Fourth and Bainbridge, where he has a pop-up repair shop most Fridays.
From the window, it’s evident this is not your average repairman. He talks about the typewriters like they're beloved pets or favored children.
“This little cutie,” begins the description he wrote of a 1930 LC Smith & Corona.
“Ingenious,” he said, simply, of a 1939 Remington.
And, pfft, the 1924 Remington Portable never had to “resort to tricks” — sacrificing row of keys, for example — like wannabe portables.
I was charmed. And even more so when I visited his shop. If the 67-year-old is not the very last typewriter mechanic, he’s surely the most poetic.
“They’re specimens from a different era,” he said of the typewriters around him. “They are beautiful.”
He sees his job as far more than just wiping away dust and dirt.
“It’s making them live again,” he said, “so you see them again as working pieces of art.”
Typewriters were not in the typewriter mechanic’s blood, but trade is. He was born into a family of South Philadelphia pioneers — hot dog pioneers.
During the Depression, his grandmother Ida Kravitz opened one of the city’s earliest hot dog pushcarts at Fourth and South. When the war ended, his father, Lenny, took over the cart and it eventually grew into the famous Lenny’s Hot Dogs shops.
Back then, typewriter repairman was not so unusual a calling.
Indeed, Philly was home to the King of the Repairmen, Augustus Bundy, owner of Bundy Typewriter on Chestnut Street. For a time, Bundy’s was the country’s largest typewriter reseller.
To drown out his many competitors, Augustus hired a nearly 7-foot giant named Big Mike. A walking advertisement, Big Mike was paid to parade down Chestnut Street in a French Foreign Legion uniform, cradling typewriters under each arm while bellowing out bargains. (Still thriving, Bundy's fixes Apple computers, no typewriters. Big Mike belongs to the ages.)
Kravitz didn’t find his way to the profession until he traveled to California after graduating from Northeast High. He went to trade school after working in a printing factory and fell into a typewriter repair class. He was hooked. For a time, he was married and owned his own repair shop in Berkeley. Then he took business jobs. He missed typewriters.
After returning to Philly, the typewriter mechanic went back to his real love. A year and a half ago, he opened his showroom, Philly Typewriter, in a shared artists' space on Carpenter Lane (he’s there on Tuesdays and Saturdays) and decorated the Queen Village storefront (most Fridays from 4 to 6, next on March 17).
The typewriter mechanic is a man of meticulousness. For our interview, he typed up notes. “Typewriter Tuesday,” it began.
Light the window, he reminded himself, to cast the machines in soft and inviting light. And put out cheese and crackers. (Deep in his work, he forgot the cheese and crackers, for which he profusely apologized.)
Also in his notes: “Who Uses Typewriters” (a long list including everyone from hipsters to lawyers filing divorce forms) and “Passing on the Knowledge” (he has two apprentices). Another one said, "Pockets of Interest, my enjoyment." It dealt with why he does what he does.
He plays Barbra Streisand records while he works and has the showroom set up like a classroom. A typewriter on each desk.
His work awaiting, the typewriter mechanic smiled.
“What could be more wonderful?” he asked.
For the typewriter man, nothing much else is.