After 40 years of repairing typewriters, including those of Woody Allen and Tommy Hilfiger, Bino Gan calls it a day.
Bino Gan has never seen Woody Allen’s movies, but in his own way, has helped in writing them. Gan has made sure that the famous Olympia typewriter Allen uses to write his screenplays is always in good pecking order.
Gan is also not a huge fan of Francis Ford Coppola, but he did service the Olivetti that Coppola used to write the Oscar-winning screenplay for The Godfather.
He has also serviced the typewriters of writer and editor William Packard and designer Tommy Hilfiger. But a a majority of Gan’s customers have been local writers during his nearly 40 years as a typewriter repairman.
Gan’s typewriter-fixing days, though, are coming to a close. He plans to shutter his shop, Typewriters ’N Things, for good. “I’ve been working on typewriters most of my life, and I’m a little tired,” said Gan, 60, who with his wife, Nita, now mostly sells office supplies at the shop.
Aside from test-tapping the keys to evaluate a unit’s condition, Gan said he has never really used a typewriter himself — nor a computer, for that matter.
A Filipino immigrant, he came to New York in 1976 and learned his trade by working at the typewriter repair shop in midtown Manhattan that his brother opened after he left the Philippines. In 1987, Gan founded his own store.
Years ago, Gan worked full time on the machines, along with his three other repairmen. But by 2000, with the rise of computers, repair requests had nearly halted, although they have become more common over the past five years, he said.
Some older writers have stayed loyal to typewriters, and some younger ones have become fascinated by them. Also, he said, many parents like to expose their children to them.
“People want them as working antiques,” said Gan. Many customers have brought their typewriters in for one last repair, providing a spike in business for Gan in the waning days of his career. “I turned down three repairs today,” he said recently. “I have to draw the line somewhere.”
After hearing of the impending closing, one customer, Dora Chomiak, brought in two typewriters — an Olympus portable, and a Smith-Corona — for Gan to overhaul this month.Her twin nine-year-old daughters are quite fond of the family typewriters, she said. “They’re taking computer coding in school, but they love clacking on those keys,” Chomiak said. Another customer, John Gresham, brought in his Royal typewriter from the 1930s for a cleaning. “I wanted to get it in shape while there’s still someone who can fix it,” said Gresham, 68, a lawyer.
In the basement workspace of Gan’s shop last week, he and a part-time employee, Ira Workman 63, serviced an electric Smith-Corona. “The mechanical machines are simpler to repair than the electric ones, because it’s simple cause and effect,” Gan said. “You start at the ribbon and work your way down.”
Next, they worked on a Mercury portable manual unit with a sticking R key. Workman scraped the rust off the key rods and lubricated the mechanisms with a long-nozzled oil bottle.
Most typewriters need a new ribbon, a cleaning and lubrication and they will work fine, Gan said, adding that he provided this very service for Coppola’s Olivetti Lettera 32 when the filmmaker brought it in about 10 years ago.
“He told me he used the typewriter to write Godfather 1,” said Gan, who showed the repair slips he kept, for Coppola’s machine, and for Allen’s portable SM-3. Gan then pulled out a fistful of rubber belts and pointed out little drawers of washers, springs, keys and buttons. “It’s not like I’ve run out of parts,” he said.