Camera obscura: 52-year-old Cary's photo shop closes
The first Charlottesville casualties of the digital camera-era came in 2005 when Rapid Photos and the Camera Center, the latter one of the state's oldest photo stores, closed up. Five years later, 52-year-old Cary's Photo Shoppe on Ivy Road quietly turned out the lights.
"People are printing much less," says Andrew Rader, whose family purchased what was called Cary's Camera in 1994. "The technology and industry of photo finishing has changed dramatically over the past 10 years."
Cary's tried to change with the times by emphasizing digital printing and photo restoration. And three years ago, Rader–- who changed the name of the store to Cary's Photo Shoppe–- realized there wasn't enough of a margin selling cameras and got out of that entirely.
"People were coming in to ask about them, and then they'd buy them somewhere else," says Rader, who remembers spending over an hour with one man who left and then called back to ask if the store would meet an online price.
Charlottesville takes a lot of pride in buying local, Rader notes, and some people had been coming to Cary's for half a century. "We had a good reputation," says Rader, "and that made me feel good."
Ultimately, that wasn't enough to keep the business going. Cary's April demise means Pro Camera and Richmond Camera are now the only camera-specializing stores in town.
"It's hard," says Pro Camera owner Bill Moretz, because a lot of mail-order places are selling them at cost. However, he notes, "We had the best week ever last week."
Moretz attributes Pro's success to diversification–- including something relatively rare in the toss-away world: repairs. So not only does the store entertain shoppers from, say, Greensboro and Richmond; but repair-needing cameras arrive from all over the world, he adds. (Pro Camera can fix broken turntables and radios with vacuum tubes too.)
"We have not turned our backs on traditional analog," says Moretz. "We keep a lot of film and paper."
"We're a dying breed," acknowledges Kitty Wray at Richmond Camera, which has 10 stores in Virginia. She attributes the store's survival to customer service and online digital printing that is processed at a professional lab in Richmond.
"If someone walks in and sees what we can do with our equipment, your pictures will be better than they ever were," say Wray. "We spend half our time doing education."
Richmond Camera still sees people who shoot with film, and she still stocks a few non-digital cameras because photography teachers want students to learn on them.
But the fact remains that five years ago, there were a handful of camera shops in town, and today there are just two.
"When you are in a field that changes so much," says Rader, "it's very tough."
Hey, we in the newspaper business understand.