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Hooper: Tampa couple continues quest to 'Save the Typewriters'

The Paper Seahorse celebrates World Typewriter Day on Saturday (June23) from 10 a.m. to noon. Russell Conteras | AP
The Paper Seahorse celebrates World Typewriter Day on Saturday (June23) from 10 a.m. to noon. Russell Conteras | AP
Published Jun. 22, 2018

In a sense, Tona Bell and her husband Randy Rosenthal are striving to save an endangered species.

Creation has ceased. Existence wanes. The experts needed to sustain their place in our society are dying off.

Bell and Rosenthal, however, remain undaunted.

"We're on a mission to save all the typewriters," says Bell, who will celebrate World Typewriter Day from 10 a.m. to noon on Saturday (June 23) at her store, the Paper Seahorse, 211 S Howard Ave.

When Bell opened the stationery, pen and paper boutique in 2015, she envisioned a writing bar: a place where people could come, have a cup of tea and write a letter.

Or type a letter.

RELATED STORY: Paper Seahorse invites people in for a 'digital detox.'

So Bell asked her husband if he could locate and purchase a couple of typewriters for the new store. She envisioned getting vintage typewriters from different decades, but Typewriters 'R Us doesn't exist.

Rosenthal went to work.

"He starts researching and he goes down the rabbit hole because he loves all things analog, and becomes obsessed with these typewriters," Bell explained. "I get my first typewriter, a pink Royal, and then I get a Corona. Then, he starts getting more and at some point I say, 'You have to stop. I have more than enough.'

"But they're fascinating and they're beautiful pieces of machinery and they don't make them any more. People weren't taking care of them. People were chopping off the keys to make jewelry. We started loving them. We wanted to protect all the typewriters."

So the quest began, and along the way, it yielded Tampa Type, a group that supports and nourishes the growing community with special events.

"We've brought the typewriters to events large and small across the Tampa Bay Area and they always draw a crowd," Rosenthal said. "I love the very small children — tiny typers I call them — who almost instinctively will know what to do.

"They ask questions : Where is the delete key? (There is none) How can I change the font? (You can't) Ok, they say and just start writing."

This year, Tampa Type's grown beyond their "wildest dreams." They took two dozen typewriters to a Disney resort where more than 2,000 people used them to write. And in Las Vegas, they arrived at Aria Resort with 30 machines for a mass interactive typewriter experience.

"It seems as if we are the only group in the nation that facilitates this kind of experience at this scale," Rosenthal said. "It is so rewarding."

The typewriter world actually has a cult following, including actor Tom Hanks. And it's not just Luddites and little tykes longing for the good old days. Bell says as the Paper Seahorse's reputation rose as a place to buy typewriters, the customers started to flock in and amazingly, included middle school boys and high school girls.

"They go to their parents and they've seen it and they want that experience," Bell said. "I have hope because there's another generation being exposed to it."

Meanwhile, Rosenthal absorbed lessons from one of Tampa Bay's few expert typewriter repairman. The tricks to fixing the machines stand as a dying art. In fact, the 2016 documentary California Typewriter chronicles the struggles of a Berkeley, Calif., repair shop. It's unique tools and unique approaches.

And it's unique machines. Sounding like the head of an animal rescue, Bell says she invites customers to come in and do a test type.

"It probably takes six to eight machines, sometimes 10, to figure out which one is good for you, that you bond with."

Hanks knows all about the bond. As one of the celebrities fostering the resurgence, he wrote a collection of short stories with a typewriter playing a key role in each tale. The title: Uncommon Type.

Bell and her staff once invited Hanks to visit the Paper Seahorse. And while he never made it there, he did send a nice letter expressing his support. Of course, it was typewritten.

Bell's other mission at the Paper Seahorse involves craft classes and opportunities where people can escape the digital world — if only for a few hours — and return to working with their hands.

And breathing in life.

Rosenthal said the typewriter, which doesn't allow people to write and edit at the same time, fuels innovation. Consider this: Among the many customers to visit the Paper Seahorse, one stood out to Bell. A 10-year-old with an old soul said he wanted a typewriter because, "I have to slow down and think about what I really want to say. It makes me a better writer."

Where would we be today if everyone — if only for a moment — slowed down and thought about what they really wanted to say.

Suddenly, the typewriter doesn't seem so archaic.

That's all I'm saying.