When Hilary & Mike Gustafson were preparing to open Literati Bookstore in Ann Arbor, MI, in 2013, they knew that they wanted to model the store logo after the 1930s Smith Corona typewriter Mike’s grandfather used in college.
“It was given to me for a Christmas gift a while back, and I’ve loved using it ever since — for writing letters, for notes to friends, etc. We wanted our logo to capture the essence that we support well-thought, curated writing,” Mike says. “When you type on a typewriter, you have to think about what you’re going to say. Anyone who has typed on an old manual typewriter knows that it’s difficult to delete or edit or re-format in the same way we can these days on word processors. You have to think about what you’re going to say. And I like that sentiment, and we thought it would be an appropriate logo for us.”
Once the logo was in place, Mike says they thought, “Well, wouldn’t it be fun to set out a typewriter that people can type on?” He had visited the Kurt Vonnegut Museum in Indiana where a model of Vonnegut’s writing office featured a typewriter guests could type on, and he loved the idea.
“Once we set the typewriter out in the public (not my grandfather’s, which is on display, but just another old manual) we had no idea what to expect. But people began to type on it — all sorts of messages, witty, sad, funny. Some were quite good, and we uploaded them onto social media. Since then, it’s become a thing.”
The “public” typewriter can be found on the lower level of the store, in part to help to steer traffic downstairs. “We’ve had a 1940s Royal, we’ve had a 1930s era Smith Corona “Clipper”, we’ve had a Olivetti Lettera 32…,” he says. Mike has to retire typewriters when they break from heavy use. “Many people just don’t know how to use them. They sit and try to type the same way they’d type on their laptop,” he explains. “That’s why we have a little bit of signage, ‘One key at a time,’ and ‘Be gentle with me. I’m old.'”
Customers have donated typewriters to the store so others can type on them. The store provides the paper, and Mike has to search for ribbons for each typewriter online. “My fear is that one day there will be no more typewriters left in the world for us to use,” he says. “Hopefully someone starts a typewriter company, as I believe there’s a market for them once more.”
There are many typewriters in the store for display. They cut out some of their favorite quotes and tape them inside the store. And they’ve also started to paint some of their favorite typewriter quotes on the side of their building.
“Many of our favorites can be found on our social media pages, including Facebook,” explains Mike. “Although my favorite one, I believe, is this one: ‘Life, like this typewriter, has no backspace.'”