What’s old is new again
Ace Business Machines offers typewriters and more

By Karen Pilarski - Special to The Freeman

Jan. 2, 2015

Ace Business Machines owner Rick Skibba with his eBay find. He left the typewriter in the office and returned half an hour later to find his dad had repaired it.  

WEST ALLIS - Click, click, click. The sound of a typewriter is music to the ears of writers and nostalgia enthusiasts everywhere.

In 1964, Edward Skibba started Ace Business Machines, Inc. Edward was joined by his son, Rick in 1982. Now, 50 years later with Rick as owner, the West Allis business sells and services typewriters, copiers, printers, fax machines and other office equipment.

Rick Skibba discussed how the typewriter has made a comeback. For the younger generation, the coined phrase: the throwback.

“The comeback of the typewriter is a retro type of thing. People are into the touch and sound of the typewriter. The most comments I receive is that customers feel something, not just a click. People feel the rewards of tapping a lever and hearing a sound right away”, he said.

Authors like Stephen King, Danielle Steel, P.J. O’Rourke, Cormac McCarthy and Tom Wolfe prefer the typewriter over modern technology. They don’t consider themselves Luddites; rather they feel this allows them to connect more personally to their work.

There are phone apps available that produce the sound and appearance of using a typewriter. With all the new gizmos and gadgets, why the desire for the past?

“People want the printed look. Typewriters don’t always produce straight text. It adds character to what you are typing,” Skibba said.


Manuals making a surge

Despite the availability of electronic typewriters, the most popular typewriter Ace sells is the manual kind.  Skibba finds mostly teens and people in their early 20s adding vintage typewriters to their wish lists.

“During Christmas we saw a lot of request for manual typewriters. There was even a waiting list, we could barely keep up,” he said.

Ace Business Machines receives typewriters from throughout Wisconsin, as well as from other states. 

Repairs to a typewriter depend on shape and condition. 

“Usually it takes an hour or so of labor. It depends on if you need a part, something is broken, lubricant, or ribbon replacement,” Skibba said.

Common issues involve the typewriter sitting around too much and becoming gummy. What this means is buildup of dirt and oil on the moving parts. With older vintage typewriters, this can occur at the pivot point of the strike arms. This causes the strike arms to move slowly and imperfectly.

While it is enticing to go to a thrift store or rummage sale for typewriters, nostalgia buffs need to remember some tips.

 “Thrift stores don’t provide education. The purchase may work or may not work,” Skibba said.”Many people will find a part is so bad, or a typewriter is so rusted no one can do anything.”

Ace Business Machines has the repair knowledge.  The company does buy and sell, depending on the equipment and shape it is in.

“We fix two a day. Two weeks ago I had 13 come in the door!” Skibba said.

Printers and copy machines are the next big movers, he said, mostly for office use.


Golden anniversary, golden philosophy

After 50 years, Rick and Edward Skibba know how to run a successful business.

Edward Skibba is now in his 80s and by no means planning on slowing down. The elder Skibba has a mechanical mindset.

“He is excellent at problem solving. He thinks of repairs as if they are a puzzle,” the younger Skibba said about his father. 

Edward Skibba even dreams about repair work. If a repair job is a bit tricky, he will insist on sleeping on it. It is not uncommon the next day for him to appear and say, “I dreamt of it and figured it out.”

Skibba laughed and said, “Who dreams about it? My dad loves this business. To him it is a big hobby.”

A funny story Skibba remembers is buying a vintage typewriter on eBay and leaving it in the office while he did an errand. He came back half an hour later to find his father greeting him and saying, “Oh, I fixed that typewriter you left.”

While times and trends have evolved, one thing that remains is the golden rule of business, Skibba said.

 “We do the best what can to always leave the customer happy. We give the best customer service by being knowledgeable and ensuring people make educated purchases.”