Berkeley’s California Typewriter to close after 70 years of service

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After opening its doors to service manual and electric typewriters, printers and business machines in 1949, Berkeley’s California Typewriter is set to close by March 31, as first reported by Berkeleyside. 

Owner Herb Permillion bought the shop in 1981 after working for International Business Machines and now works alongside his daughter, Carmen Permillion. While the release of Doug Nichol’s 2016 documentary “California Typewriter” brought sales up, they have decided to close the shop due to recent declining sales and Herb Permillion’s retirement plans.

Nichol found the shop when he was looking for a place to fix his broken typewriter. After meeting the family, Nichol decided to shoot a short film that turned into a documentary over a five-year period that features other prominent members of the typewriter community.

“There’s also a lot of Bay Area writers and typewriter collectors and people who enjoy writing on typewriters,” Nichol said. “The shop serves as kind of the lifeblood to all these people who own typewriters.”

Nichol added that once the film was released, people from different parts of the country and the world made a “pilgrimage” to the shop when visiting San Francisco.

Carmen Permillion echoed these thoughts, as she said she has seen a variety of people, including artists, writers and legal secretaries, come to the shop from across the country after the film’s release.

“Working here, the world comes to me,” said longtime employee Ken Alexander. “I’ve met people from all over the planet that come through this store over the past 20 years and they’ve been very fascinating people to talk to.”

Carmen Permillion said she believed that it would have been possible for the store to operate without her father, but there were no discussions about ownership

Once the shop closes, Carmen Permillion added that she is unsure of what she’ll do but hopes to continue working with typewriters in some way.

“I can’t, like, shake it off. It’s too ingrained,” she said. “It’s not just something you can just drop like cigarettes or something — it’s what I do, it’s what I’ve known.”

Alexander said he also wished to take over the shop but was unable to afford it. He now plans to work at Berkeley Typewriter, a typewriter service and repair shop. He added that California Typewriter will live on through him as long as customers are able to find him.

According to Alexander, typewriters are important for creators because they help them “think” while also providing more privacy.  

“I hope they remember us,” Alexander said. “I hope they feel that we gave them good service and treated them right and hopefully we answered every question that they had.”

Contact Mela Seyoum at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @melaseyoum.