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Highland Park’s Famous Typewriter Repair Shop Has Packed Up and Left Figueroa ~ An Update

Typewriter cases thrown out.

[dropcap size=big]A[/dropcap] pile of typewriters and boxes full of random cables in the middle of the night next to the new solar-powered trash compactors on the corner of Figueroa Street and Avenue 58 confirmed it: 36 years of repairing typewriters on the same corner in Highland Park has come to an end for the Flores family.

“We’re sad, but we’ve had enough,” said Ruben Flores, the 56-year-old owner of the business tells me on a recent day. Ruben, his 34-year-old son also named Ruben, and a family friend had spent the last few months emptying nearly four decades worth of typewriters in his two-story shop, including a few machines from the late 1800s.

He delivered the keys to Michael Saghi, the landlord, last Friday. 

“It’s been somber,” Ruben Flores Jr. told me. “I’m 32 and the typewriter repair has always been around me.”

Ruben Flores Sr (right), with some Ruben (center), and a family friend, cleaning up. All photos by Javier Cabral.
Ruben Flores Sr (right), with some Ruben (center), and a family friend, cleaning up. All photos by Javier Cabral.

After he heard his father got a 250 percent rent increase last year, reported first at L.A. Taco, Ruben Jr quit his job mid-promotion to be the soon-to-be sous chef for Roy’s Restaurant in Santa Ana to come back to the family business. “I always imagined myself helping my dad move out of here when he retired, not when he got a rent increase,” he said.

Flores Sr., who could often by seen from the street crouched over working on a typewriter as late as 1 am on weekdays, confronted the rent increase with resilience. Then he said he just had enough. "You know, I paid that ridiculous rent increase three months in a row, but on that third and final time signing that check, something in me just snapped,” Flores Sr. explained.

He shared he was paying $1,600 a month before last April, then from one month to another, that rent went up to $3,700, “with absolutely nothing being upgraded,” he added.

A view inside the workshop.

After that, Flores admits to only paying $2,200 a month, and that he wasn’t afraid to battle Saghi is court because of the crumbling walls and water damage that had been getting worse and worse. He pointed out all the heavy water damage all over the building, including sunken floors, ceilings, and chipped paint on the walls. He lost valuable machines due to the water damage, too, Flores said.

Mr. Saghi did not respond to requests for comment from L.A. Taco after repeated phone calls and a voicemail.

RELATED: Highland Park Rent-Strike at the Avenue 64 Apartments: ‘We Have No Other Place to Go’

The conventional wisdom is that typewriters are increasingly becoming obsolete. But Flores says he has no shortage of customers; people out there in the digital-dominant world of today still use typewriters. Flores says he has a long waiting list for repairs.

It’s because of demand for their unique style of “white glove” quality typewriter repair treatment, which has stayed steady over the years, the shop owner says. Indeed, reviews by Yelp users on the Flores family business are glowing. "If you want to have your typewriter last forever, Mr. Ruben Flores is the man," one reviewer writes.

"I met him in 2015 when a sudden artistic whim brought me to start delving into typewriters. The culprit, a can-do-the-job Olympia SM-7, was taken into his humble, yet magical shop, and Ruben was gracious to take a look at the machine, and clean it."

Typewriter cases thrown out.
Typewriter cases thrown out.

The Flores family said they don't plan on giving up. "I’m going to be running the business out of my living room and eventually figure out a way to get a trailer or build another building for it in my house,” Ruben Sr. said.

As for the far future, he dreams of eventually getting bought out by a “rich person who loves typewriters,” since his clients — as far away as California’s central valley and Orange County — involve a few stars and famous writers already. If not, then he hopes to become a typewriter repair teacher and pass the craft on to a new generation of professionals.

“Every machine has its own personality, and I can teach this to anyone who is willing,” he said. “I know I can’t be physically repairing them forever.”

Jesus Hernandez of Hair Zone found a bigger place for about the same rent.
Jesus Hernandez of Hair Zone found a bigger place for about the same rent.

[dropcap size=big]T[/dropcap]he typewriter repair service is not the only one being displaced from Figueroa and Avenue 58. Next door at Hair Zone, owner Jesus Hernandez, who also received a notice that his rent would double at the same time as Flores, is also leaving his establishment of 17 years by the end of this month. He comes from a family of barbers, but from one month to the other, his rent went from $1,800 to $3,500.

“I’ve been paying this doubled rent coming up on a year now but the landlord still hasn’t given me a formal lease, so that’s the real reason I’m leaving.” The barber shop is a fixture on Figueroa. On the day that I’m there, I see one of his longtime customers has started to bring in his child for a trim.

Like Flores, Hernandez refuses to let a rent increase kill his passion for barbering and his lifelong business. He found a brick and mortar that is twice the size with an adjoining parking lot about a mile away on Avenue 64 and Meridian — for about the same price.

“I was cool paying the new rent because. I didn’t want to leave, but [Saghi] wouldn’t give us a lease, which means that he has me by the …,” he said, trailing off.

Despite the new location being on a smaller side street, Hernandez is confident that his loyal customers will follow him to his new location. And he they’ll likely be happier, he reasoned, since they won’t have to “circle the block or pay for parking.”

Hair Zone’s neighbor, Olegario Lazaro, who also received a similar rent increase at the same time as the the rest of the building’s tenants, is still hopeful that Saghi will give him an official lease.

He informs me that he was able to convince the landlord to meet him at an amount that works for both, so for now he is sticking it out wishing for the best. His indoor plant business Nature’s Perfection has enjoyed a second life thanks to all the younger, more affluent residents from out of town moving into the neighborhood supporting his business.

Even considering the fact that another higher end indoor plant store moved directly across the street from him — from Abbot Kinney Boulevard — two years ago. He said that a lot of his sales come from foot traffic on the popular stretch on weekends, so he is trying to work things out.

The owner of SunBeam Vintage could not be reached for comment, but both their storefronts on South Avenue 58 and their showroom on Figueroa used to display their mid-century furniture show that it is still open for business.

RELATED: Review: ‘Jazz is Dead’ Brings Much-Needed Life to L.A.’s Music Scene in Highland Park

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