Just being at Tekserve encourages people to “think different.” How many computer stores can you think of that host art exhibitions? Offer 5¢ cokes from an antique machine? Display cameras, radios, dictation machines, typewriters, and other treasures of design and technology from days gone by, alongside the latest MacBook Airs and iPads?
For the past 25 years, this one-of-a-kind emporium at 119 West 23rd Street has provided and repaired the tools New York’s designers, writers, photographers, filmmakers, musicians, actors, and architects use to explore the creative process. They’ve saved many a student’s term paper, supported businesses of all sizes, and provided showbiz neighbors, like Sex and the City and Law & Order, with a unique background for their computer-based stories. Tekserve started by serving the small creative community that had embraced the Mac, and it has morphed to serve today’s world where the Mac and iPad are for everyone.
Tekserve got its start in the loft on 23rd Street where Dick Demenus still lives with his family. Lerner and Demenus met in 1970 at WBAI-FM, New York’s first listener supported radio station. Demenus was a Columbia University Engineering School grad who quit his aerospace job as the Vietnam War heated up. Lerner was an upper west side teen who had dropped out of high school to work in radio. David remembers that after he started volunteering on Bob Fass’s midnight show, he soon met Dave Bell, a local character who sold both LSD and black boxes. The LSD was interesting, but the black boxes really caught David’s attention.
At WBAI, they helped build state of the art studios in a former church on East 62nd Street, covered the March on Fort Dix, the “Raising of the Pentagon,” and the 1972 presidential nominating conventions in Miami. That led to engineering BAI’s coverage of the Watergate hearings and Nixon’s impeachment.
Dick and David went on to start an industrial design firm, Current Designs, which built the indestructible listening stations at the Lincoln Center NY Public Library and later manufactured, right here in Manhattan, 20,000 cassette players for Acoustiguide tours at museums around the world.
When the first Macintosh was released, they each bought one at Macy’s, despite the $2,500 price tag. The Mac immediately became an indispensable tool for them but when it eventually broke down, the price for repair at the authorized repair center came as a shock.
Lerner and Demenus found that they could repair the Mac for half the going price, and Tekserve was born. Their technical skills, personal approach and reasonable prices quickly led Tekserve to become a “best kept secret” of NYC. David became a focal member of the NY Mac Users Group, forging bonds that eventually led the company to expand into selling Macs, accessories, and consulting services.
After the business became successful enough to move out of the Demenus apartment, Dick set to work making Tekserve a home away from home. His overflowing collections of vintage radios, cameras, fish tanks, children’s arcade rides and other items too numerous to mention, have helped to make Tekserve a cozy (if somewhat crowded) alternative to the pristine glass surroundings of the Apple stores. As the firm’s first marketing director, he likewise put his piles of antique photographs to work in a decade’s worth of memorable advertisements for the store.
In 2001, Matthew Cohen joined the company, bringing an additional area of expertise – creative solutions for graphic, audio and video professionals. Tekserve’s corporate division started to serve publishers, broadcasters and recording studios.
Although they have thought many times of opening outposts around the city, Tekserve remains rooted on 23rd Street. Since 2002, it has occupied its current 20,000 sq. ft. location. Over the years, the store has provided a launching pad or a way station for a variety of whiz kids. Tekserve alumni have gone on to conduct Broadway orchestras, launch Tumblr, write software for Wall Street, serve as college deans, start catering firms, craft position papers at The Council on Foreign Relations, manage Digital Marketing for NBC, and staff Mac genius bars and consultancies around the nation. The best part is that they still come back to visit.
Neither David nor Dick are the type to drop names but there are a couple of customers who stand out in their memories. Shortly after Salman Rushdie was condemned by Iran, David received a call that he was coming by to buy some travel accessories for his PowerBook. After making an appointment, David rushed home to pick up his collection of Rushdie’s books. After discussing what was needed to adapt the laptop for the UK, David brought out the books to be autographed.
Several years back, a staff member excitedly called Dick at home and said “Harrison Ford is in the store, you’ve gotta come down right now” Not wishing to seem a groupie, he demurred. She pressed, “this is about Blade Runner, your favorite movie, this is no time to be shy!”
He arrived at Tekserve armed with a magazine with Ford on the cover and a movie swag matchbook from the bar in Blade Runner. Seeing Harrison at the counter he sidled up to him and said, “Taffy Lewis asked me to give you this Mister Deckard.” Ford took a moment to put together his character, Deckard, Taffy Lewis, the proprietor, and the matches from his Snake Pit bar. He accepted the token with a gracious smile, Dick officially welcomed him to the store and he autographed the fanzine which visitors to Tekserve can still admire.
Tekserve’s customers maintain a tremendously loyal following – even in an age when there’s an Apple store around every corner. Everywhere they go, Dick and David are regaled with tales of how Tekserve saved someone’s life after their computer crashed, or how Tekserve managed to dispel the fears of their computer-phobic mom. TEKSERVE T-shirts have been sited as far away as New Mexico and customers who have moved to Georgia, California and beyond continue to call for advice and assistance and purchase from its online store.
Recently during Hurricane Sandy, a customer drove in from Michigan and volunteered a generator so that Tekserve (which was busy fixing computers by flashlight) could open and serve its neighbors.
Today, Tekserve is New York’s premiere authorized Apple Reseller and Service provider, dedicated to supplying New Yorkers and their businesses with the best technology products, solutions, upgrades and service. A few years ago, Dick and David brought in a real CEO, Kevin Hart, to help the firm survive the shifting landscape.
The small business started 25 years ago by two techies who fell in love with their Apple computers will continue to grow and change, but Tekserve is still a one of a kind experience, only in New York, only on West 23rd Street.