“It’s only 15 miles, but it takes about 30 minutes,” Ed Tatsch said of the distance from his home just over the county line to his parents’ house here in Fairview.
Tatsch’s parents Gene and Mary Lou moved to Fairview in 1998; soon after, Tatsch and his family transferred to Western North Carolina as well. “I’ve enjoyed watching Fairview grow and change over the years,” he said. “Like this place,” he gestured around Daymoon Coffee Shop. “I doubt it would have made it back when we moved here and look how busy it is now.”
ETS Networks: home to high-tech & antique machines
Tatsch knows a little something about the past and present colliding. At his business, ETS Networks, you’ll find advanced, highly technical printers sharing space with their ancestors: old-fashioned typewriters.
Since 2010, he’s been working with small businesses, providing tech support and other IT services. In 2017, Tatsch expanded his company, purchasing a printer service business called ABC Office Systems. The former owner asked him, “What are your plans for the typewriter service?” Surprised, Tatsch responded, “You have typewriters?”
Tatsch had learned to type on a new-fangled electric typewriter back in 1978, but he’d not thought much about the clunky things since the advent of word processing. He certainly didn’t know anything about repairing them. “Yeah, I’m going to let that go,” he said, dismissing the idea entirely.
Unexpected opportunity: Typewriters, who knew?
Then the phone started ringing. Some called for repairs, others for supplies, and still others to make a purchase. This was clearly a more viable opportunity than Tatsch had realized, so he called the previous owner back. “This is Ed. I need you to teach me about typewriters.”
Tatsch didn’t own a machine himself, but his wife had a couple of them. “They were just down in the basement,” he explains, chuckling. “Poor unloved typewriters!”
“One of them was a Sears portable from the 1960s that had been in a box for 30 years. Beautiful machine,” he says fondly. “The other was from the 1920s. It was dusty, not in a box or anything, but it still works! It’s in great shape.” So, Tatsch started studying, learning about these relics of yesteryear, mastering their inner workings and becoming an expert at repairing them.
And then, incredibly fortuitously, about a week after Tatsch added ABC to his company, award winning actor Tom Hanks published his book Uncommon Type, a collection of short stories showcasing Hanks’ love of typewriters. Thanks to this celebrity endorsement, typewriters everywhere experienced a boost in appeal. Meanwhile, Tatsch’s phone kept ringing.
The octogenarian customer
These days, Tatsch repairs almost all kinds of typewriters, both manual and electric. “Except the IBM Selectric. I work on those—selectively,” he quips. “While most electric typewriters have around 300 parts, that thing has 3000. It’s the one with the golf ball element? Invented in the sixties. Generations of high school students learned to type on them back in the eighties.”
But why—with talk-to-text devices in every pocket—this regression to technology from the 1900s? Well, Tatsch says his customers fall into two groups.
“First, there are the octogenarians,” he says. “A lot of them use their typewriters more than ever. Problems like arthritis or shaky hands make handwriting difficult so they rely on typing for correspondence, envelopes, checks, stuff like that.”
“Plus, there’s the nostalgia of it. Recently, I had a World War II Navy vet come in looking for a specific machine. During the war, he decoded Morse Code, using a Royal KMM to report his results. The Navy even had their own font called Navy-Mil. It’s all uppercase. No lowercase letters at all,” Tatsch says. “And that was what he wanted: that same machine. Luckily, I had one in the shop. He was thrilled.”
The younger shopper
The other group of shoppers is made up of millennials and even younger folks. “The kids love them,” Tatsch says. “It’s like they have nostalgia for something they never had.” Never indeed. By the time this group was born, “google” was already a verb.
“With the kids, I don’t think it’s about the typewriter itself. It’s about a way of thinking,” Tatsch says. “When you sit down to a typewriter, it affects your senses. It’s noisy and tactile, and it smells of ink and oil. It’s just so real.”
It’s writing without all the error warnings like red squiggly underscores; it’s print without the filter of automatic correction. “With a typewriter, it’s okay to make mistakes. That’s just part of typing,” Tatsch says. It’s true. on a typed page, the mistake remains. Even if it is corrected, it isn’t invisible. “With a typewriter, every time you make a mark, you become a part of the page.”
The typewriter: building a bridge from Baby Boomer to Generation Z one keystroke at the time.
This piece first appeared in our local paper, The Fairview Town Crier, where I write a monthly column called Folks of Fairview. You can read the Crier online here.