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Twin State Typewriter to Close As Building Is Sold to Northern Stage

  • Becca White, middle, of White River Junction, Vt., reacts to the news that Donald and and Wanda Nalette are to be selling their South Main Street building in downtown White River Junction to Northern Stage at the end of July. Wanda Nalette, who owns Twin State Typewriter, will be closing the business and joining her husband in retirement. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Photographed on June 21, 2018, the three floors of space in the Twin State Typewriter building in White River Junction, Vt., will undergo a transformation by Northern Stage after its purchase is complete at the end of July. The first floor is to be offices, second floor living quarters for actors and the basement costume storage. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • A row of vintage manual typewriters await repair completion by technician Jeff Wells, who was on vacation, at Twin State Typewriter in White River Junction, Vt., on June 21, 2018. The business will close at the end of July after its building is sold to Northern Stage. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Business Writer
Saturday, June 23, 2018

White River Junction — For much of the past half century, Twin State Typewriter has bypassed the technology revolution.

Fax machines, PCs, laptops, tablets and smartphones have all come and gone or arrived and lingered, but the White River Junction business office supply store defied the digital era as one of the few remaining places in northern New England where people still could take their clunky Remington typewriter or IBM Selectric to be cleaned, fixed and restored.

By July 31, Twin State Typewriter, too, will go the way of the office typing pool.

Wanda and Donald Nalette are selling their building at 93 S. Main St., in White River Junction, to Northern Stage and closing the typewriter repair and office supply business. Wanda Nalette, 68, and her husband, Donald Nalette, 74, said they are ready to retire — helped by their neighbor’s offer to buy their building.

The Nalettes had been discussing for several years with Northern Stage whether the performing arts nonprofit would acquire the building, and finally struck a deal last week.

“They were ready to buy and (because of) our age, it just made sense to do it now,” Wanda Nalette said from behind her desk in the store last week. “The time to sell is when you have a ready buyer.”

Northern Stage wants to use the Twin State Typerwriter building, which is a 70-foot walk away from the arts center, for offices and residences for visiting artists. The building has five one-bedroom apartments on the second floor which the Nalettes have rented to tenants.

Eric Bunge, managing director of Northern Stage, said that growing participation in the performing arts center’s education programs has put pressure for space on the organization’s administrative and production offices. In addition, the organization has been chronically short of room to house artists and staff during the peak production season. Northern Stage already has a master lease for 18 apartments at real estate owner Mike Davidson’s 241 S. Main St. apartment building, but more apartments are needed.

“It’s a recruitment and retention issue for us,” he said.

Bunge said plans have not been finalized, but his current thinking is to use the main floor of the Twin State Typewriter building to accommodate fundraising and development staff as well as offices for the lighting and sound department.

Both Nalette and Bunge declined to disclose the sales price, although it will become public when the deed transfer is filed with the town of Hartford. The two-story, 5,800-square-foot building — built in 1946 and once home to a tavern called The Marconi Club in its basement — is assessed at $246,00, according to Hartford town records.

The building’s current tenants have to be out by July 31 when the sale closes, Nalette said.

“That was the hardest thing — telling them,” she said, because some of the tenants have been living in the apartments for decades. “I was up to 4 a.m. doing laundry the night before, upset.”

A Dependable Service

Although the store may never have traded in the latest business gadgetry, that doesn’t mean it hasn’t provided a reliable and needed service, according to the store’s diehard customers.

Ken Blaisdell, owner of Lampscapes, the custom lamp-making studio in downtown White River Junction, has relied upon Twin States Typewriter “as kind of a second office,” he said. Besides purchasing such staples as invoice receipts, envelopes and packaging tape there, Blaisdell used the store to send faxes and photocopy documents.

“It just worked out for me,” he said.

Quechee Gorge Gifts owner Kipp Miller said he always has used Twin State Typewriter to service his business’ three electric cash registers, which he also bought at the store.

“They were more convenient than going over to the big box stores in West Lebanon,” said Miller, whose family owned the former 25,000 Gifts store that for many years was located where the Listen furniture thrift store is now located at the intersection of North Main Street and Route 4 in White River Junction.

Miller said that although he could have his cash registers serviced elsewhere, “my preference is to try and support a local business as much as I can.” With Twin State Typewriter closing, he would probably have to travel to Barre to get his cash registers serviced, he said.

Rebecca Bailey, a publicity coordinator at Dartmouth College’s Hopkins Center for the Arts, recounts how relieved she was to be able to find the correct typewriter ribbons at Twin State Typewriter for her old manual typewriters that she had set up in the lobby of the Hopkins Center last fall where people attending dance company choreographer Kyle Abraham’s workshop on “Dearest Home” could participate in an exercise of writing love letters.

“We had to replace the ribbons and naturally went to Twin State Typewriter,” Bailey said, noting how rewarding it is to live in an area where it was possible to buy such a hard-to-find item at a local store.

Twin State Typewriter was first opened around 1970 — the Nalettes aren’t sure of the exact year — by Dick and Marine Lawrence. Wanda Nalette went to work for the business in 1988 as a bookkeeper after an earlier career as a legal secretary and bought the business — and with her husband, the building — from the Lawrences in 2000.

For many years, Twin State Typewriter provided a lot more than just typewriters: the business was an important retailer of office supplies in the Upper Valley, selling everything from school desks to area schools to the rudiments of small business items such as ledger books, receipt pads, stationary and envelopes, shipping materials and writing instruments.

The business even had a full-time salesman on the road.

But the office supply end of the business fell off drastically a decade ago with the growth of big box stores and then incursion of online sales, so the repair side of the business, which has focused on typewriter and cash register repairs, became that for which the store was mostly known.

‘Typewriters Never Died’

Contrary to belief, Nalette said there is still a demand for typewriter repair work. On some weeks between five to seven typewriters will arrive via mail from places all over the country from owners needing repairs because there are so few places that still do the work, she said. Customers find the store through online searchers, even thought it doesn’t have  website.

“Typewriters have never died,” Nalette said. “Manuals are even bigger now than before.”

The back room is stacked with old, black, heavy iron manual typewriters with names that were once familiar in any office: Underwood, Remington, Corona, Royal and Woodstock. A row of IBM Selectrics — the Corvette of business typewriters — which lines the floor and shelves against a wall were once acquired from Mascoma Bank.

Donald Nalette estimates some of the models are 75 years and older. One, a Corona Special, is “probably like 100 years old,” he said.

Some of the old typewriters are harvested for parts to repair the typewriters that come through the door, he added.

The Nalettes plan to begin a mark-down sale this week on all typewriters and business supply stock in the store.

“They are going to go fast,” Wanda Nalette said. “Especially the older ones. I have no doubt about that.”

As for unsold inventory, Nalette doesn’t know what she will do with it.

Posting items for sale on eBay isn’t her thing, that much she is sure.

“Maybe I’ll get one of my sons to do it,” she said.

The store’s repair work for several years had been done by technician Jeff Wells, of Claremont, who has been coming in once a week where he works on a bench in the back room. He did not respond to a voicemail message for comment.

Twin State Typewriter also repairs cash registers, fax machines and photocopiers — “anything that is not a computer,” Wanda Nalette affirmed. “We stay away from those things.”

Nalette said she tried to interest her grandson in taking over the business, and Wells was even willing to train him in the typewriter repair trade, but he wasn’t interested. He instead wants to become a professional chef.

Nalette herself is rigorously old school when it comes to running her business.

“I have a flip phone, if that tells you anything,” she said.

(Her husband, Donald, gave a her Fitbit wrist activity monitor two years ago, but it’s still in the box.)

She keeps track of her accounting in hand-written business ledgers and writes out business receipts on paper slips in longhand. She orders supplies over the phone “because I like hearing a voice on the other end.” Her own typewriter is a more than 50-year-old Silver-Reed EX 55.

And the store doesn’t accept credit or debit cards.

“Checks or cash only,” she said.

Some even think that typewriters could be the next wave of retro technology to gain a new following like vinyl records have attracted in recent years.

In Philadelphia, typewriter technician Bryan Kravitz, who learned the typewriter repair trade in California in the early 1970s and specialized in the repair of IBM Selectrics, opened Philly Typewriter last November.

The storefront not far from downtown repairs and restores manual and electric typewriters — at any given time he has about a dozen orders from customers in various stages of repair — and he has even introduced a typewriter repair course for people wanting to learn “how to take a typewriter apart, oil it, clean it and put it back together again so it works.”

“People just love them,” Kravitz said of those who walk into his store. “They come into our shop all day and their eyes get as big as saucers. Either they are old people who remember them or kids who have never seen them before.”

Kravitz is trying to become the Johnny Appleseed of typewriters and has set a goal of training enough people to restore 2,000 typewriters by 2020 and then placing them in public places around the city — schools, libraries, senior centers — for people to use, hopefully firing their interest in the old technology.

Kravitz recently had reached out to Wanda Nalette after tracking Twin State Typewriter down on the internet to ask her if she knew of anyone who wanted to learn the typewriter repair trade. He would teach them and then they could come back to Vermont to work for her customers.

“But I’ve never found anyone interested” in learning typewriter repair, Nalette said.

Kravitz, who said he might be interested nonetheless in acquiring Twin State Typewriter’s tools, believes there is a strong link between typewriters and literary creativity.

“What typewriters do much better than computers is: they are good for original thought,” he said. “You see the motion of getting your words on paper.” He said typewriters help to counter the effects of “digital overload,” whose pernicious effects begin at the earliest age.

“You stick a tablet in front of a two-year-old because it shuts them up,” he said. “And it takes over.”

 John Lippman can be reached at jlippman@vnews.com.

Correction

This story has been updated to reflect that property transfers in Vermont are filed with the town.