Typewriters are still around in Pawtucket

Posted in: NAP- Neighborhood Alliance of Pawtucket
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Typewriter shop still hanging in


01:00 AM EST on Monday, January 18, 2010


By Tom Mooney

Journal Staff Writer


Ray Marr works on an electric typewriter at Marr Office Equipment, his repair shop in Pawtucket.

The Providence Journal / Andrew Dickerman

PAWTUCKET –– The decade’s passing marked the virtual end of some things. Pay phones, handwritten notes, camera film, to name a few.

But just as his father, and his father before him and his father had, too, Michael Marr still greets each business day with the unceremonious opening of the family’s Main Street office supply store; an act as defiant of the digital world as the flag that continued flying over the besieged Alamo.

There are still typewriters out there needing repair.

“They’re still around; you’d be surprised,” says Mike, 42, an optimist who represents the fourth generation to run Marr Office Equipment since 1953. “Sometimes you go into an office and you get a snide remark.” Someone may see him returning a repaired machine and say, “ ‘A typewriter, oh my God.’ But every office you go into you see them. Not as many, but they’re still out there.”

His father, Raymond, a trim man at 72 who wears his running shoes to work, is more wistful.

“I might have put the key in the door and locked up a while ago if it wasn’t for Mike,” he says. “Oh, the business we used to do.”

They speak inside their small wood-paneled shop where out front, two rows of vintage Underwoods and Remingtons, Smith Coronas and IBMs offer a visual history, spanning nearly a century, of the greatest writing machine ever invented –– now as obsolete as 5-inch floppy disks.

Twenty-five years ago, the shop employed seven servicemen who set off each day visiting hundreds of customers, from small offices to large corporations. They cleaned and lubricated more than 16,000 typewriters a month. Texas Instruments, Balfour, The Providence Journal, naval bases in Quonset Point and Newport. … “I could go on and on,” says Ray.

And that was just the maintenance contracts. Three women in the office handled the books, took orders for new typewriters and arranged pickups for repair service. Ray’s older brother, Bobby, the company’s president, did repairs alongside Ray on the worn benches in back.

Oddly, the heyday for Marr Office Equipment arrived in the mid-1980s, as computers began replacing typewriters in corporate America. IBM, one of the world’s most successful typewriter manufacturers, saw the writing on the wall and eliminated its entire service center. Instead, it contracted with regional stores. It made Marr its exclusive Rhode Island dealer for sales and service.

“That,” sighs Ray, “was like a gift from heaven.”

Trailer trucks began unloading boxes of new IBM Selectrics and Wheelwriters at the shop’s back door. The typewriters left through the front almost as fast in the hands of happy customers. Silver “Dealer of the Month” plates commemorating Marr Office Equipment as IBM’s top East Coast dealer began finding their places on a wall where they would hang in perpetuity beneath a dusty, 40-year-old stuffed pike.

“It was like a merry-go-round in here,” says Ray. “If it had stayed like that. … Wow.”

Today, the shop’s employment roster stretches to three: Ray, Mike and office assistant Diane Iachetti, 49, who’s worked at Marr’s for 27 years and does most of the bookkeeping on a computer. But not all.

Maintenance contracts remain on penciled index cards. What used to be 16,000 typewriters serviced a month is now “maybe three or four,” says Ray.

When Mike decided to join the family business, he knew he’d have to diversify the shop’s services. So he went to school to learn how to repair printers and copy machines. About half the business now, he says, is devoted to those repairs.

He remains hopeful, though, that nostalgia, sentimentality and practicality will keep the typewriter business going, though Ray says it’s almost impossible to find a decent manufacturer of typewriter ribbon these days.

Ray pulls open several cabinet draws crammed with old typewriter parts. What will he do when those are gone?

“That will be Mike’s problem,” he chuckles. “Not mine.”

Around him, several repaired typewriters await pickup. The attached tags give a clue to the shop’s customer base: a Smithfield doctor; the city of East Providence; the FBI’s Providence office, which has sent over two IBMs. An agent reveals that some of the agency’s forms are easier to fill out on typewriters than pull up on a computer scene.

Judy Revan is another sometime customer. She’s had her trusty electronic Panasonic on her desk at AAA in Providence for decades. Lately she has worried about the day she may have to part with it; it’s easier sometimes to type an address on an envelope, she says, than to print a label from the computer.

“One day I thought I might have to toss it,” she said. “I turned it on and it started printing the wrong characters. But I prayed and prayed, and one day it just started working again.”

Patricia Ricia, the purchasing agent for the City of Providence, says, “The old-fashioned typewriter is still in use, believe it or not” in some City Hall offices. The Parks Department, for instance, uses one, appropriately enough, to type out on index cards the burial records for the North Burial Ground.

Freelance writer Judi Cosentino of North Providence is one of Ray Marr’s more frequent customers, and represents a resurgence of typewriter lovers whom the Marrs often hear from.

“I have eight typewriters,” she says. Each has a name. She used “Martha,” her Smith Corona, to write a book last year titled “Good Girls Don’t.”

“There is just something about a typewriter,” she says. “The way it sounds, the way when you take the paper out and you see your work before you. It just gives you a sense of being a writer the way a laptop can’t quite measure up. I don’t know what I would do without Ray.”

That day may come.

But not today.


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  • bigallan
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Have a few oldies around but lot of dust on them.

Talk about change

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  • maxmanso
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very interesting but still no tech ability

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  • bigallan
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Another oldie bites the dust-

With many tears, fond memories, Weeden Manor is closing its doors

By ETHAN SHOREY, Valley Breeze Staff Writer

PAWTUCKET - No one ever mistook it for one of those standard five-star senior care facilities.

The sinks sometimes leaked, the floors often creaked, and newcomers found it easy to become lost among its winding staircases and numerous nooks. For more than a century, one of Pawtucket's oldest assisted living centers - quite possibly the oldest - showed a depth of character few other facilities like it could claim.

Dozens of antique furniture pieces, many of which have never had a monetary value placed on them, art pieces with unknown sources, and original dark woodwork mix with more modern amenities at Quality Hill's Weeden Manor. A narrow hallway takes visitors up over the driveway to a carriage house that once served as servant quarters.

"It's certainly going to be a hard building to leave," said Sharon Burrill, the long-time director of the home, as she took a break from packing up items at the 9,300-square-foot facility last Friday. "It's a wonderful old mansion."

After 105 years serving the community, Weeden Manor and its 12-member staff will officially conclude an around-the-clock work schedule next Monday, Feb. 2. The non-profit assisted living center becomes the fifth center like it in the state to close in the past year due in part to a loss of funding as residents continued to leave for other facilities.

When the Diocese of Providence closed Woonsocket's St. Francis House last year, several of those residents moved to the Pawtucket facility, but now even those people are gone.

The love for Weeden Manor and its residents shines through loud and clear in the choked-up voices of staff members.

"Make no mistake, this was not one of those hotel vacations you see nowadays," said Burrill, as she gave perhaps her final tour of the city institution. "We take care of residents. That's who we are."

Even if one was just visiting a family member, you were part of the family at a residence first opened in 1905 as the Elizabeth Higginson Weeden Home for Indigent and Infirmed Females at the corner of Prospect and Division streets.

It happened countless times, staff making up a guest bed for a visitor at no charge, all part of a philosophy of treating each resident and his or her family with the gracious service they deserved, said Burrill.

"We served the community well, but I guess all good things have to come to an end," she told The Valley Breeze.

For decades the Weeden Manor staff provided the best home away from home they could as residents moved in, lived out a new stage in life, and often moved back out.

For some, the days they spent at 11 Walnut St. would be their final ones.

With a maximum capacity of 14 residents, keeping Weeden Manor afloat over the years has been difficult, said Burrill, but the task became nearly impossible when the number of tenants there decreased to just five last year.

Though there were few major reinvestment initiatives undertaken over the years, when projects like the replacement five years ago of all 101 windows at Weeden Manor are needed, it places a serious strain on already tight finances.

Weeden Manor relied on maintaining its 14-person capacity along with receiving some aid from the state. When both revenue sources dried up over the past two years, said staff members, the home's fate was sealed.

Valued at just over $1 million today, the former Darius Goff House was built in 1890, according to a Rhode Island Historical Preservation and Heritage Commission survey. City tax records show that it was built in 1920.

The Weeden Manor was an independent charitable corporation established by the trustees of the Pawtucket Congregational Church as a result of a bequest in the will of Elizabeth Higginson Weeden, who left the property for the purpose of founding a residential retirement home to serve the surrounding community.

Charles Greenhalgh gave the mansion to the Pawtucket Congregational Church with the stipulation that the Weeden Home should occupy the stately building, according to a historical narrative.

The home would leave behind its "Weeden Home for Indigent and Infirmed Females" moniker in 1976 "to conform with current philosophy and changing times," as stated by a promotional advertisement for the home.

News of the Weeden Home's closing comes just weeks after a move by the 180-year-old Pawtucket Congregational Church out of its prominent downtown location to the Sayles Memorial Congregational Church in Lincoln.

While the Pawtucket Congregational Church name will be maintained, according to church leaders, combining forces at a smaller church creates a better atmosphere for all involved.

Burrill, a 35-year member of the Pawtucket Congregational Church and a member of its leadership board, said that church leaders are in the very early stages of determining what to do now with the Walnut Street property. Quality Hill residents would certainly take interest in what happens next to the stately facility, as many have rehabilitated historic homes of their own in the neighborhood.

Weeden Manor is chock-full of antique furnishings, including what some believe is an expensive Tiffany stained glass window and works of art throughout. Burrill said she expects church leaders to have a professional appraiser go over all of the building's contents in the coming days

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