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In the heart of West Mt. Airy, where patrons of Weavers Way Co-op and students from Charles W. Henry School meet, Pam Rogow extends an invitation inside her magical garden…of typewriters.
The whimsical garden, available to the public by appointment, is equipped with bistro tables and tree-stump chairs, a towering “bird village” collection of birdhouses and a babbling pond.
And, of course, typewriters, which Rogow arranges daily.
Rogow has run the W.P.M. Typewriter Shop out of her home since 2017, and has been in the typewriter sales and repair business since 1994. She’d planned to set up one of her machines in her Pennsylvania Horticultural Society Blue Ribbon-winning garden for public use this year.
“When the pandemic happened, then I just switched gears,” Rogow told Billy Penn.
Garden guests find Rogow online, she said, as one of the few brick-and-mortar typewriter sales and repair shops in the area. She talks with visitors ahead of time to learn what kind of machine they’re looking for and why, and installs a custom mini typewriter display for every guest.
There’s no appointment time limit. Rogow has been encouraging neighbors to hang out at her quasi-public garden for a while now.
Last year’s iteration was an internet-free community space. Guests were invited to hang with friends — sans the ubiquitous phones and internet-connected devices.
Since incorporating typewriters into the design, sales at W.P.M. have doubled, Rogow said. She loves seeing nostalgic wordsmiths, curious novices and everyone in between experience the instant gratification the clickity-clack keys bring.
The typewriter was invented in the second half of the 19th century. It went on to become an office staple, its reign lasting well into the 1980s. When Godrej & Boyce, the world’s most prominent typewriter manufacturer, closed its Mumbai, India, headquarters in 2011, reports declared typewriter manufacturing dead — inaccurately.
New Jersey-based Swintec continued to make the machines until at least 2017. The company’s business was largely driven by the prison industry. At many commisaries, incarcerated people can still buy the machines for around $225 each.
At Rogow’s shop, customers include public school history teachers, younger folks purchasing gifts for grandparents, millennials beleaguered by the demands of today’s digital era, and people who want to tap into ancestors’ experiences. A Delaware marching band even incorporated a few machines into its percussive presentation, she said.
“Many poets have typewriters,” Rogow added. “They understand that every letter, every word matters.”
There’s no delete button when a press on the weighted keys translates directly to an inked form on a sheet of paper, which forces writers to be extra-intentional about their work.
“I would make a deal with myself. I’m willing to do three drafts for this important paper.
I sure don’t want to do four, so I’m completely focused,” Rogow said.
A writer also can’t navigate to Twitter for a distracting, five-minute (or, ahem, hourlong) reward after composing a single paragraph. And the physical manifestation of receiving your printed word on paper provides instant gratification, Rogow said.
A former Californian, Rogow has lived in Mt. Airy for more than a quarter century. She transplanted here from L.A., where she cofounded a museum design business called Rogow + Bernstein. The firm had a hand in Cincinatti’s Riverwalk, parts of Pennsylvania’s Sesame Place, and a Smithsonian exhibit called “The Information Age.”
She also helped manage a 20k-square-foot exhibit for Philadelphia’s 1976 Bicentennial.
The tactile, interactive nature of museum experiences is a natural conduit to the world of typewriting, Rogow said. Unlike probably most people, Rogow said she’d “already given a lot of thought to how important [typewriters] are for your brain.”
She recalled a comment from Manayunk web designer and poet Zachary Rodis, a customer, wherein he mentioned working on a typewriter changed the entire way he wrote and spoke.
“On a computer, you go back and choose what’s good or bad — it’s more like you’re working with clay,” he told Rogow. “On a typewriter, it’s more like marble.”