Sunday, November 6, 2016

Endangered Species: Camera stores

Tunnel View at Daybreak, Yosemite National Park, California
Fujifilm X-T2 XF 18-55mm

Camera stores were funky places.  Most of them were run by photographers who parlayed their love into a business.  Some were good business people, some not.  Others were run by people who knew little about cameras -- a couple I know of actually had sales people wearing shirts and ties which, except for shooting a wedding or some formal event is grossly overdressed.  Some were large stores with huge inventories, others mom-and-pop places and there were a lot in between.  One thing in common is that they are rapidly dying off and we are not the better for it.

I must be up front and say that some of these stores were there own worst enemies -- arrogant, overpriced, misleading -- but others simply fell victim to changing economic times and often an inability to keep up with them.  Kenosha is down to one store, Rode's, which has limited hours and limited stock.  Racine's Camera World store closed years ago.  Calumet Photo in Chicago and nationwide is gone.  So is Shutan and Helix is down to one store with a smaller stock.  There were four or five camera stores in Monterey, California recently but now it's down to two and one is no longer open weekends or downtown.  Sam's Camera in Kalispell, Montana is gone along with two other competitors.  Jackson, Wyoming had three or four stores a few years ago.  Only one is left.

The most recent casualty seems to be Keeble and Shuchat in Palo Alto, California, recently shuttered after 51 years in business.  This was a full-line store (actually two stores, one across the streets from the other with one featuring used gear) in a college town (Stanford) that isn't Podunk.  The owner was quoted as giving several reasons why business is down -- online competition, discount stores like Costco and high sales tax rates.  I found out about this today when I drove there to buy some accessories and the doors were closed and the shelves bare.

Montara State Beach, California at sunset
Fujifilm X-T2, XF 18-55mm

Local camera stores are important places.  They don't just sell cameras, they sell knowledge and camaraderie.  I remember well walking into The Camera Company in Madison 37 years ago and walking out with what I needed to start a darkroom.  They also sold me cameras, lenses, strobes and a lot of chemicals.  They had competition, too, now all gone.

The strange thing is that people are taking lots of photos these days but are using iPhones instead of Nikons and printing is done at Walgreens or on your own printer, not by Kodak or a local lab.  People are buying cameras at Amazon, Costco, Sam's Club and what's left of Ritz Camera (which wasn't much of a real camera store, anyway).  The funny thing is that all you get from these places is a box with a price tag that's sometimes even higher than a local store's.

I buy my camera bodies at local stores.  My two main cameras now were purchased at National Camera Exchange in Minnesota and Vistek in Toronto.  The pricing was as good or better and the service was much better.  I've purchased camera bodies and lenses from many other stores, most all too happy to ship them to be.  Because of what's called MAP (minimum advertised pricing) F-11 in Bozeman, Montana could sell me a Canon camera body for the same price as B&H in New York or Amazon.  The bonus is when I am shooting in Yellowstone and need something photography related F-11 is there for me.  Same with Pro Photo Supply in Portland when I am in the Pacific Northwest.  And I've bought camera and lenses from stores in Spokane, Peoria, Dallas, Kalamazoo, Indianapolis and even B&H, Adorama and Berger Brothers in New York which are also local stores.

If you buy a camera at Best Buy you're probably being overcharged and, even if not, you are anyway because you don't get the knowledge and personal service that you would at most local camera stores.    If you don't shop local stores they will simply keep dying off and then, guess what?  Higher prices and poorer service due to less competition.

So, let me make this plug for you to do as much business as you can at a local camera store.  We need to keep them alive and their business flowing.

Bridal Veil Falls on a windy day, Yosemite National Park, California
Fujifilm X-T2, XF 18-55mm