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Sunday, 24 May 2015


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I worked at Penn Camera for 7 years but got out just before the cracks started to show in the camera business. Nowadays with camera sales cratering and the relative lack of interest in photo finishing I'm amazed any camera business can be profitable. Good luck to them, not an easy thing to do these days.

Great to hear. I have bought some stuff on line, but it is always a risk. It is nice to drop into a store and "shoot the breeze"

Very cool.

So glad to hear this!!! I hate that small retailers have been run out of town by the Internet. I live in Manhattan, where camera stores w/Internet businesses to support them, still exist... but they are still BIG box stores, and customer service seems to only go as far as getting one to purchase said item.

There is no replacement for excellent Customer Service, including knowledeable personnel to discuss the particulars with.

Thanks, Steve, for bringing this to our attention with such a beautifully written piece.

I visited my old hometown of Philadelphia a few months back and tried to find the old camera shop I worked in in 1972.
Back in the day, someone could walk in and ask for a Leica IIIg and we'd retort with "How many do you want?"
It was a great shop and we had monthly visits from the likes of Kurt Olden and others.
Sadly, the shop is now a Thai restaurant.
In fact, I couldn't fine one camera shop in Philly.
Good to see someone reviving the brick and mortar store. I miss that.
My large two pesos.

When I was a kid in the 60s, my dad did all his camera and lens buying in a store just 13 miles from our rural town, Hoyer's in Williamsport, PA. It was a classic old-school serious camera shop, and I can still picture the glass counters and the camera displays. That's where he got his Rollei, his Leica and lenses, and where we had our film developed.

I assumed that in the intervening years Hoyer's had gone the way of most of the other independent camera shops. So after reading today's post, I googled and was surprised and delighted to discover that a city of just over 100,000 can support a camera shop, now 75 years old.

Next time I'm passing through my old stomping grounds, I'll have to make a pilgrimage.

A lot of photo stuff is best evaluated in person (camera bags being, for me, perhaps the extreme example in that direction; I've never seriously considered mail-ordering a camera bag). And if they can keep the prices competitive with internet ordering for bodies and lenses, then they'll do some business in those as well. Best of luck to them! (We've still got two significant camera stores I know about in Minneapolis, one of them a local chain with multiple locations and an internet presence, and I sue them periodically.)

About six months ago, I discovered/visited a shiny brick and mortar camera store in Bradenton, Florida (I felt as though I'd stepped into Mr. Peabody's WABAC time machine). The store carries an excellent selection of Canikon, Fuji, Sony, Sigma, Tameron, and Sigma gear--not to mention bags, strobes, stands, and tripods/heads, etc. While I was there, a prosperous looking customer stood at the counter trying to decide between three different lenses. The salesman probably spent the better part of thirty minutes with him. After much deliberation, the guy made a decision. He asked if the store would match a well-known online retailer's price (about 5% less). The salesman explained he'd like to, but there wasn't any wiggle room on that particular lens. The man mumbled, "I'll think about it." He headed towards the door. I stopped him and quietly introduced myself. I reminded him that he'd just had an opportunity to test out several lenses, and by the way, a conscientious salesman spent a lot of time going over the pros and cons of each lens. I glanced at his car (a high-end luxury model) and then made eye contact with him. "How fortunate we are to have a brick and mortar camera store nearby. Buy the lens from these guys," I said. "The salesman helped you reach a conclusion while having the opportunity to test each lens. Think about the value-add quotient. Why not reconsider? Purchase the lens here." The man turned around and bought the lens.

I also hear buggy whip factories are re-opening in Michigan...

This store looks terrific and sounds like it has a good plan. I wish them well, and they should do well in such a populous college town area.

"I walked out of that store with a huge grin on my face, and I’m still grinning!" Well if a grin is all you walked out of the store with, that's not very supportive, Steve! C'mon, buy a camera or lens from these guys!

Less than a month ago I visited Blue Moon Camera in Portland Oregon. Although a two hour drive the experience was worth it. This is a well established store that mainly features film (actually I didn't see a single digital camera) and they have an extensive selection of used film cameras and lenses plus lots of film and even a respectable amount of darkroom supplies. For any Minox 8X11 user they are the only supplier in North America of fresh film and will also do processing and printing of that format. Talk about a step back in time! I only wish I lived closer. It wasn't just old guys like me or hipsters with Holgas in the store either. There was one young couple, about early 30's I'd guess, with a 9 or 10 year old son. The dad had a 500CM slung over his shoulder and the kid had an AE-1 around his neck. This store seems to be thriving and I got the warm fuzzies out of my visit.

I liked the first two photos as they supported the story well. I suspected that a Sony Alpha 7 II was involved, so I peeked at the Exif data and that turned out partly to be the case. I was surprised however that you did not include copyright information in the Exif files for any of the photos. I thought that was a standard practice.


"Showcase shopping," where people would look at, and handle cameras in local stores, then order them on-line, has doomed a lot of local businesses; maybe this hybrid model is onto something.

I personally feel that to keep internet commerce alive, and yet give a fair break to local business, the federal government should create a national sales tax for internet transactions, but bar the states from adding sales taxes to that transaction. This would do two things -- it would allow local stores to compete on an even basis with internet stores, so that there would be no automatic discount by buying form the internet; and would protect internet dealers from the real possibility that some day they might have to collect and then remit taxes to thousands of separate taxing jurisdictions.

The federal tax could then be sent back to the states on a per-capita basis. There is something very weird about a system where people showcase-shop Samy's in California, and then order from B&H in New York, to avoid what can be substantial sales taxes; and then have people in NYC showcase-shop B&H, and order from Samy's for the same reason.

Not that such a national sales tax will get passed with the two political parties can't even agree on the time of day. If it did, though, we might actually see a resurgence of local camera stores.

It is no surprise to me that stores are back selling film. I don't know what's going on that side of The Pond, but here in Europe there's definitely a resurgence of film. It's not that unusual to see people walking in the streets holding film cameras.
This isn't nostalgia. No, it definitely isn't an age-related affair. I see people in their early twenties buying film and photographic paper when I go to my favourite stores. They're usually photography or art students who buy inexpensive film like Fomapan (or expired film, which I'll never understand), but the phenomenon cannot be confined to people who are into film because they have to use it in their classes. There's an increasing demand for film and film cameras and it doesn't seem likely to be stopping so soon.
I am one of the people who converted to analogue photography. I can only speak for myself when I say the reason I shoot film now is that I got fed up with digital photography. It's too easy, too predictable, too safe. It leads to unimaginative pictures.
Despite my enthusiasm, I know there's no way film will regain its place as the dominant format. But I can foretell there will be lots of digital photographers going back to analogue in reaction to the excess digital allows for. (Yes, that kind of excess: I'm one of those who can't stand seeing anyone take selfies, especially when they use selfie sticks.)
Maybe digital deviated us so much from the sound photographic principles that some want to try and get closer to the essence of photography; or maybe it's just hype, who knows? All I know is I've barely used my digital camera since I bought my OM-2. I won't go as far as to say digital is over for me, but I say it can wait. At least until Ilford Photo and Kodak run out of production...
Mr. Rosenblum shouldn't be surprised to see shelves full of film at a camera store. Just like no one should be shocked to see vinyl pushing CD aside in the music stores. Convenience isn't everything.

I work in a dedicated camera store in Australia in a city about twice the size as yours. We are open still, well stocked and well staffed (we also have 3 excellent book stores), but there is always that lurking fear. Locally the internet hits us harder with exchange rates, price variance by area* and direct asian imports being the biggest problems, but there is still room for direct service and handling of gear. We will see what the future brings.
* US retail prices are pitched under our pre tax cost with Canon and Nikon, but we are comparable (sometimes cheaper) with Fuji and Olympus etc.

It surprises me that there was no real camera store in Ann Arbor, MI. I used to live Kalamazoo, MI and bought my first cameras at a great store there, Norman Camera. As far as I know, Norman Camera is still there and also has a large online presence as well. If you ever get to Kalamazoo, check out Norman Camera.

Living in Ann Arbor this is indeed a fine thing, I visited a couple of weeks ago and hope to be an early customer once they have their film processor set up. I just hope they can prosper, one challenge they have is that parking is not so convenient in their location. In the last couple of years I think three brick and mortar stores (that I know of in SE Michigan) have opened, and one long standing one has closed.

Hi Mike:

Sounds like a great store. I am lucky where I live, Edmonton, Canada, to have several good camera stores that even stock small players like Pentax. While the internet has wiped out many brick and mortar businesses, when we purchase in a local store, we are supporting the local economy. I try to avoid buying from the big internet retailers as it doesn't support local retailers and this can help develop a local sustainable economy. I find that my local store will price match so it is win-win; I get local service and a reasonable price.

Best news I've seen in a long time.

Given the choice, I'd gladly spend my spare time browsing a local small shop as opposed to "surfing" web sites!
Well done to retailers who are giving it a go in this age of "fast and nasty". Perhaps the trick is to have an online presence for the recurring bills and add-on value to the retail space with a coffee shop or similar?

Roberts camera in Indianapolis is pretty much as you describe Camera Mall; although Roberts is a reincarnation of an older, existing store. The first time I walked into the new store it seemed evident to me that it was not just a typical retail store relocation, but rather, a well planned local retail answer to the Amazon/internet challenge. I wish them well. Walking through a door and being able to see and handle a new camera is a pleasant break from sitting in front of a computer, reading reviews. Not to mention the instantaneous gratification of face-to-face returns and exchanges.

It's refreshing to see the "little guy" fight back, rather than just accepting fate and throwing in the towel. As the internet continues to reduce the incidence of the face-to-face interpersonal thing, maybe it (the interpersonal thing) will eventually become more sought after and valuable...Just like a scarce commodity.

That's great news for Ann Arbor! I am hopeful it is a pattern. See, for example, the story of this bookstore in Nashville: http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2012/12/the-bookstore-strikes-back/309164/

Once upon a time, the newspapers lamented how big box chains like Borders and Calumet and Tower were destroying the beloved small independent book, camera, and record stores. Next came Amazon and lo the newspapers decried how it was destroying (the now) beloved Borders, Calumet, and Tower.

And now we have a renaissance of independents, celebrated on the blogs.

I'd be tempted to suspect a split in the space-time continuum, except that most of the people I know are sick and tired of never being able to find anything in stores anymore. BIG BOX MALL of America has managed to con everyone into becoming their own bank tellers, their own check-out clerks, their own inventory transport, and it's sucking all of our time and energy

Why aren't we willing to spend $20 more for the same item in a real store that offers you service and help? We'll all affluent as hell, or we wouldn't be buying new phone and camera models every 6 months. Why do we care more about the $20 than our own time? What kind of mass disease have we all caught?

Best news in a long while!

"The prices at the store are the same as Amazon and other online retailers. So, the customer gets the same price, and can actually get the camera in their hands, and get expert advice at the same time."

Same policy one of our two (we are a little town of about 70.000) camera stores is applying, and this allows it to fare quite well.

That's pretty amazing. I hope they keep going with more success!

I second the mention of Norman Camera. I used to LOVE going into that store when I visited friends and family there. Great store with very knowledgeable employees.

>> I couldn't fine one camera shop in Philly.

The only decent camera shop left in center city (downtown) Philadelphia--which, by the way, is the 5th-most populous city in the US.--is Webb Cam, at 241 N. 12th Street. If you're willing to drive to the suburbs, there's The Camera Shop in Bryn Mawr. The rest are mainly C41 processing labs that carry a motley assortment of low-end cameras to add atmosphere.

" I glanced at his car (a high-end luxury model) and then made eye contact with him. "How fortunate we are to have a brick and mortar camera store nearby. Buy the lens from these guys," I said. "The salesman helped you reach a conclusion while having the opportunity to test each lens. Think about the value-add quotient. Why not reconsider? Purchase the lens here." The man turned around and bought the lens. "

So one has to beg customers to take the consultant service into consideration. This, basically, shows that the business model is not really sustainable. The "value-add quotient" is valued at exactly Zero.

Or, one can look at it as yet another illustration of people valuing any service, received for free as, well, free.

It is pretty hard to beat Internet prices because the consumer can always find somebody able to sell the item without charging sales tax. Although many states have tax law stating that all out-of-state (non-taxed) internet purchases over a certain amount ($100.00 per piece in my state) have to be reported, and taxed by the state, on the income tax form, I would venture that people rarely do this. I report "hardware" (lenses, etc) but if I ordered clothing or other common items online, I am sure that I would not remember which items needed to be reported (this coat but not the other coat?).

The best camera store in the SF Bay area is in Palo Alto and yet they somehow TOTALLY missed the internet boat. I shake my head looking at their prices. I'd like to buy from them but 40% difference can't be ignored. It's a matter of time I fear.

I purchased a 50 mm Sigma Art Lens from CameraMall a few weeks ago, and I love it! But what I love even more is that the store is just a few blocks away from my apartment, and I have easy access to camera equipment and expert advice! Also, Desmond, the store owner, is very knowledgable and cares deeply about his customers.

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