This N.J. shop's vintage typewriters feature in 'The Post,' 'The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel'

Owner Rick Dutczak stands among some of his many typewriters at Karl Business Machines in Mercerville, N.J., on Friday, Jan. 26, 2018. The shop rents vintage typewriters to television shows and films needing them as props. TIM TAI / Staff Photographer

The magic of typewriters

Rick Dutczak entered his typewriter shop one day last May to a rare order.

Camera icon TIM TAI / Staff Photographer
An Olympia manual typewriter from the 1960s, which was used in the recently released film “The Post.”

A set decorator for the film The Post had left a message asking for 30 green, gray, black, and tan vintage ’60s typewriters to be featured in the now Oscar-nominated movie about Washington Post journalists attempting to publish the Pentagon Papers. It was a last-minute request; the typewriters were needed in a few days.

Tears came to Dutczak’s eyes when his secretary relayed the news of the opportunity, surrounded by stacks of the clunky machines that have consumed so much of his life. The basement of his store in Mercerville, outside Trenton, has rows of ceiling-high shelves with vintage typewriters, various parts, and old adding machines accumulated over decades.

“We stopped what we were doing,” Dutczak said. “We worked long hours through the weekend getting everything ready and checked because the machines had to be in working order.”

Within days, Dutczak packaged and delivered more than two dozen Olympia manual, IBM Model C, and IBM Selectric 1 typewriters to White Plains, N.Y.

And the hard work paid off. Dutczak felt pride as he watched the film last week and spotted one of his typewriters sitting outside the office of editor Ben Bradlee, a role played by Tom Hanks.

“When I was watching the end of the movie, I had a smirk on my face,” Dutczak said. “It’s like ‘You did it.’ ”

Dutczak has been fiddling with the metal machines since 1976, when he was a teen working at his father’s newly opened store. His father moved from Romania to Brazil, and finally to the United States when Dutczak was 8. In 1987, Dutczak’s father retired and the son bought the Trenton-based business, Karl Business Machines.

Camera icon TIM TAI / Staff Photographer
An Olympia manual typewriter from the 1960s, which was used in the recently released film “The Post,” is pictured at Karl Business Machines.

It was a time before tablets and laptops, when repair shops were a staple in every small town. Office technology advanced in the 1980s and 1990s, so Dutczak began selling small copiers, too. The 2000s saw a sharp decline in business as desktop computers took center stage.

But Karl Business Machines is back to its roots now.

In 2011, Dutczak followed a new path.

He began renting typewriters to prop directors, starting with Men in Black III. Other notable projects include the award-winning Amazon Prime show The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, the CBS show Young Sheldon, and Hidden Figures, a film set in the 1960s about three African American women working in the NASA space program.

“We’ve had to pivot over the years … but we’ve come full circle,” Dutczak said.

Over the last seven years, news of the business and its proximity to New York City has likely spread among those in the industry, said Dutczak. He declined to disclose the price of renting his machines, but he estimates that work with Hollywood accounts for about 10 percent of his business.

He’s also given a machine to Hanks, a well-known typewriter enthusiast who appeared in the documentary California Typewriter, and sold one to author Sherrilyn Kenyon.

As the owner of one of the last repair shops in the state, Dutczak said he isn’t desperate for business and sees a “typewriter resurgence” underway among younger generations. He has played a role in introducing children and teens to the now-outdated machines through the big screen.

One customer, Frank Cioffi, 66, of Princeton Junction, comes into the store regularly with vintage typewriters he buys online from Europe. The machines get damaged during the shipping process and need repair.

An English professor at New York’s City University, Cioffi said he takes his machines into the classroom.

“Most of my students have never seen a typewriter before,” he said. “They’re just fascinated by these machines and the clicking sound of the keys.”

“I have parents spending hundreds of dollars on their little kids,” Dutczak said. The vibrant bubblegum-pink and light-blue Royals appeal to kids, Dutczak said, and typically cost around $500.

But for Dutczak, who some days tinkers with typewriters until 1 a.m., it’s not about the fame or glory. He boils down his success to one thing: lifelong passion.

“Some people really love to play golf,” he said. “Typewriters are my golf.”