The typewriter, in the context of the times, has been heralded as sophisticated and futuristic—so much so that the fine contraption changed the way people saw communication, and became a necessity in most professions and households for the most part of the 20th century.
But the workhorse that so often received beating from the likes of Kerouac, Hemingway, Faulkner, and Bukowski, among others, has since been confined to the recesses of closets and storage rooms ever since the emergence of word processors and personal computers in the 80s.
It wasn’t long after, then, when the immense shift from manual to digital became a threat that left business owners no choice but to hang up their hats and gloves. Soon enough, the sales of typewriters capsized and typewriter shops were sold left, right, and center.
V.Avena & Sons
While the rest vended their wares, closed shop, and moved on, there is one shop that stood its ground and stared the face of turmoil down. Tucked a little ways past Welcome Rotonda in España Boulevard is V. Avena & Sons, one of the few remaining typewriter shops left in the country.
The establishment is not easy to miss. From afar, V. Avena & Sons bears a huge signage in red block letters; as you get closer, you can curiously peer in the shop’s window display where rows and rows of typewriters rest on the shelves, awaiting its new owner.
Ramon Avena, owner of V. Avena & Sons, leaves his house in Quezon City to stay in the shop from 7 am to 6 pm. In this four-story building in España is where Ramon has been day in and day out, every single day except for Sundays, for the past fifty years or so.
Ramon’s father, Vicente Avena, first put up shop in Azcarraga (now Recto) in the 1930s. Vicente, who was an athlete and played center for the Philippine basketball team in the 1920s Far Eastern Olympics, specialized in sporting goods. It was only in 1939 when the family business shifted to typewriters. In the 1960s, V. Avena & Sons relocated to España and has stayed there ever since.
Despite the store’s name, Ramon Avena, now 83, is the only son in the family. “Perhaps my parents were expecting more children and more sons, but it just so happens that after me there were three daughters.”
From inside, V. Avena & Sons looked like, to an extent, a museum of some sort. Aside from typewriters for sale, it also holds some antiques, from bulky boat-shaped typewriters, to weather-beaten books, and even an accordion camera that Ramon’s father once owned.
While some see antiques as merely something to sell, Ramon believes that his father’s possessions, including the shop, are priceless. “I treasure all the things that he has,” expresses Ramon.
Beside the front desk is a narrow staircase that leads to a mezzanine, where another museum resides. More pictures take up most of the space on the walls, ones of his late parents, his wife and children, and his sisters. But the most striking part is a room that can be peeked through a large glass window—his father’s office. Inside is a desk with even more pictures of his family, dusty old books crammed on shelves, and a diploma his father received for participating in the Far Eastern Olympics.
“For me, you should give honor to your parents,” shares Ramon. And for him, preserving the office filled with memories of his father is how he honors him—other than managing V. Avena & Sons, of course.
Continuing the legacy
“I’m just continuing what my father started,” explains Ramon as he rests behind his front desk. Behind him is a row of black and white pictures that are only a portion of the captured memories now in square frames, resting atop tables and hanging on walls.
At a young age, Ramon helped his father with the shop, starting out by dusting and sweeping around until he eventually tinkered with the machine. Fast forward to this day, Ramon spends his whole day in the same place doing what he has learned, despite the low demand for typewriters and infrequency of customers. Ramon does this not only for his father, but out of love for the craft as well.
Ramon asks, “Can you stay like that? Alone here, all day? I don’t think so. Unless you love it.”
Things, however, weren’t always so clear-cut for Ramon. Although he has spent most of his life selling and repairing typewriters, he decided in 1959 to take a different path to prove something to himself.
Ramon’s father, Vicente, never forced him to work in their family business, and so, for a time, Ramon worked independently at G.A Machinery where he dealt with tractors as a salesman. This stint was short-lived though, for it took Ramon only six months until he decided to return to his father’s shop.
Just as how his father gave him the freedom to go after his own pursuits in life, Ramon shares that he let his four children do the same. Without dismay, he accepts the fact that no one else in the family is interested in continuing the legacy of V. Avena & Sons.
Recurrence of the analog
Just like Ramon, some of his customers visit the shop with the intent of trying to preserve old treasures. In one corner of the shop, typewriters, either rusty or missing a few parts, are waiting to be restored. Most of these typewriters belong to customers who want to own and preserve what their parents or grandparents previously owned.
Living in the digital age, there is a certain fascination with the analog among the youth. This curiosity and transfixion for the charm of the old played a huge role in the revival and sales of typewriters, vintage cameras, vinyl records, and other vintage instruments.
“It’s how you look upon the old things eh. Do you value it or you just [think], oh it’s a waste of time, throw it already or sell it?” Ramon supposes. He believes that the desire to preserve old things such as the typewriters he restores comes from valuing what their elders used to have, just like he does.
Steadfast and unwavering
Most people see typewriters as memorabilia, kept in dusty attics to remind them of the past, but for Ramon, typewriters have become a symbol of his love for his parents—a love that has immortalized them through V. Avena and Sons.
Being in the business in this day and age is a challenge that Ramon conquers every day. With his immense love for the craft and his parents, V.Avena & Sons continues to stand tall and unyielding in the face of uncertainty and adversity—catering to everyone’s typewriter needs since 1939.