Where Have all the Camera Stores Gone????

canonmike

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In a few recent CR posts, I have mentioned that I have no Specialty Retail Camera Stores within 100 miles of my home. Sadly, that is true. When I perform a Google search looking for a Camera Store, at least a half a dozen store names come up but when I call, their phones are disconnected or when I drive by to check them out, they are no longer there. Once thriving local camera stores, now nothing but a memory. I am a firm believer in supporting local businesses when and where I can. In the photographic field, this is no longer possible where I live.

In the late 80's, I lived in the Atlanta area and there were several large, local camera stores where I could go check out the latest photo gear offerings from most Mfgs. Wolf Camera on 14th St and Showcase Photo and Video on Cheshire Bridge road were the two local mainstays. Both are now history but more on that in a moment. Somewhere around 1991-92, I walked into Showcase, sauntered up to the counter, patiently waited for a sales clerk, since the floor was slammed with potential customers and glanced at the glass cases behind the sales counter, where I saw some of the new white L lenses Canon was offering. Once a clerk was available, I inquired about the EF 300mm F4L lens that was begging to be touched. He attached the lens to a Canon A2e body, turned it on and handed it to me. I was unfamiliar with the new AF EF mounts, so when I depressed the shutter, not hearing the lens focus caused me to hand the camera back to the clerk and inform him it wasn't working. He picked up the camera, pointed it at a car outside the showroom and pressed the shutter button. It both focused and fired away, sans film in camera, of course. He smiled that knowing smile but without making fun of me, he proceeded to hand the camera back to me, briefly explaining what an ultrasonic lens was and told me to depress the shutter and point the lens at different subjects. I couldn't believe how quiet this new Canon Ultrasonic lens was. It not only focused, I was just overwhelmed with its ultra quiet autofocus and so, I walked out of Showcase that day with my very first Canon Camera, an A2e (eye controlled focus) and that ever so quiet EF300mm F4L lens. The rest is history and I have been a Canon Shooter ever since. I bought a myriad of Canon gear from this store and Wolf's over the next several years. Sadly, Wolf's filed bankruptcy several yrs ago and in 2017, Showcase, the last surviving full service, camera store there, liquidated all of its 40 yrs of inventory and closed its doors for good. But why, you might ask??

John Williams, the long time General Mgr at Showcase, shared his reasons for the store closing with PetaPixel. While this is an older article, I think many of you will find it enlightening, as it sheds some light on the daily workings of a camera store and it's interaction(s) with both customers and Manufacturers. Much of the information he provided (minus perhaps the sales tax collection explanation) is still relevant in today's photographic market, shedding much insight into the marketing strategies local stores use and the very slim profit margins, set and enforced by the various Mfgs. and how this affects store profitability, or lack thereof. Here is a link to the Peta Pixel article that explains why they closed.

https://petapixel.com/2017/03/02/another-big-camera-store-fails-many-closing/

In the fall of 2020, the Fed Gov't ruled that out of state shipments could be taxed by the states where the products were being shipped to, somewhat leveling the playing field advantage out of state on line vendors had enjoyed for years. For stores like Showcase, it was too little, too late.

Update: Thx to all my fellow CR members, who took the time to give their input and insight into this thread. Much appreciated. Congratulations to those who still have a local camera store they can visit. They are a dying breed in this era of on line shopping. Sadly, the moral here is that price trumps service. It appears we always want the lowest price and are prepared to go wherever we can find it, the exception being when we just have to have it, supply is limited and we are willing to pay whatever to have it right now.
 
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Maximilian

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Sadly, that happens to any kind of brick and mortar stores that are not supported locally. :cry:
But honestly, it's been years since I went to the best next to my home in the bigger city.
If you know what you what buy where it is cheapest - that's the rule of the modern consumer. :unsure:
 
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neuroanatomist

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In the fall of 2020, the Fed Gov't ruled that out of state shipments could be taxed by the states where the products were being shipped to
Just to clarify, the sales and use taxes that are levied in the majority of states (45 of them) are taxes on individuals. Brick-and-mortar retailers have always been required to collect those taxes on behalf of buyers and remit them to the state. Buyers ordering from out of state were required by law to declare those purchases and pay tax on them. In fact, a majority of sales/use tax-collecting states have a line on individual tax returns to report such purchases. People who don’t are committing tax fraud. The fact that ~98% of tax filers were committing that fraud didn’t make it legal, but did mean states were losing billions of dollars in revenue.

What the SCOTUS 2018 South Dakota v Wayfair decision meant was that retailers selling to customers out of state were required to collect the appropriate use tax on behalf of buyers and remit it to the buyers’ home states, just like in-state retailers.
 

UpstateNYPhotog

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Jun 3, 2021
44
35
In a few recent CR posts, I have mentioned that I have no Specialty Retail Camera Stores within 100 miles of my home. Sadly, that is true. When I perform a Google search looking for a Camera Store, at least a half a dozen store names come up but when I call, their phones are disconnected or when I drive by to check them out, they are no longer there. Once thriving local camera stores, now nothing but a memory. I am a firm believer in supporting local businesses when and where I can. In the photographic field, this is no longer possible where I live.

In the late 80's, I lived in the Atlanta area and there were several large, local camera stores where I could go check out the latest photo gear offerings from most Mfgs. Wolf Camera on 14th St and Showcase Photo and Video on Cheshire Bridge road were the two local mainstays. Both are now history but more on that in a moment. Somewhere around 1987-88, I walked into Showcase, sauntered up to the counter, patiently waited for a sales clerk, since the floor was slammed with potential customers and glanced at the glass cases behind the sales counter, where I saw some of the new white L lenses Canon was offering. Once a clerk was available, I inquired about the EF 300mm F4L lens that was begging to be touched. He attached the lens to a Canon A2e body, turned it on and handed it to me. I was unfamiliar with the new AF EF mounts, so when I depressed the shutter, not hearing the lens focus caused me to hand the camera back to the clerk and inform him it wasn't working. He picked up the camera, pointed it at a car outside the showroom and pressed the shutter button. It both focused and fired away, sans film in camera, of course. He smiled that knowing smile but without making fun of me, he proceeded to hand the camera back to me, briefly explaining what an ultrasonic lens was and told me to depress the shutter and point the lens at different subjects. I couldn't believe how quiet this new Canon Ultrasonic lens was. It not only focused, I was just overwhelmed with its ultra quiet autofocus and so, I walked out of Showcase that day with my very first Canon Camera, an A2e (eye controlled focus) and that ever so quiet EF300mm F4L lens. The rest is history and I have been a Canon Shooter ever since. I bought a myriad of Canon gear from this store and Wolf's over the next several years. Sadly, Wolf's filed bankruptcy several yrs ago and in 2017, Showcase, the last surviving full service, camera store there, liquidated all of its 40 yrs of inventory and closed its doors for good. But why, you might ask??

John Williams, the long time General Mgr at Showcase, shared his reasons for the store closing with PetaPixel. While this is an older article, I think many of you will find it enlightening, as it sheds some light on the daily workings of a camera store and it's interaction(s) with both customers and Manufacturers. Much of the information he provided (minus perhaps the sales tax collection explanation) is still relevant in today's photographic market, shedding much insight into the marketing strategies local stores use and the very slim profit margins, set and enforced by the various Mfgs. and how this affects store profitability, or lack thereof. Here is a link to the Peta Pixel article that explains why they closed.

https://petapixel.com/2017/03/02/another-big-camera-store-fails-many-closing/

In the fall of 2020, the Fed Gov't ruled that out of state shipments could be taxed by the states where the products were being shipped to, somewhat leveling the playing field advantage out of state on line vendors had enjoyed for years. For stores like Showcase, it was too little, too late.
Mar 02, 2017 Article as noted in the link.
 

unfocused

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The fate of many camera stores was sealed with the advent of digital. In the pre-digital era, if you were a serious photographer you worked in black and white and did your own processing and enlarging. When I took up photography in high school I became a very good customer of one of the local camera stores in my hometown but I never bought a single camera or lens there. What I did buy were reams of photo paper, bulk Tri-X that I rolled into cassettes myself and lots of chemicals.

About 80% of the floor space of the store was devoted to darkroom equipment and supplies, with cameras comprising just a few counter display cases. Selling a camera was a nice bit of gravy, but the bread and butter were the consumables, which were sold to amateurs, professionals and commercial users.

Later, when I worked on a newspaper in a small city, we pretty much kept the camera store in business because of the chemicals, paper and other supplies we bought. They even delivered the supplies to us when we would call in an order.

Digital changed all that. That permanent, steady source of income dried up and camera stores in mid to small markets would never be able to sell enough cameras to stay in business. Online competition may have been the final nail in the coffin, but their fate was sealed once digital entered the market.
 

old-pr-pix

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Dec 26, 2011
439
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Fortunately in this area are still a few well stocked camera stores, yet most of the longest term players have closed. The factors causing brick and mortar sources to disappeared are varied and numerous. It isn't as simple as sales tax and many buyers 'neglecting' to pay use taxes. Some of the factors were hinted at in the referenced article but there are others.

As mentioned by unfocused, in the analog era consumables were a main stay for the larger stores. Film, paper, chemicals were frequent repeat purchases with good margins. However, it wasn't just retail customers. For many there were significant professional, commercial and governmental customers as well.

Many stores benefited from expertise in backroom processing. Although mini labs in every drugstore and mall took a chunk of that business, for a long time enlargements were still the domain of specialists. And, while the masses were happy with poorly processed 3-1/2x5 or 4x6 prints more discerning customers looked elsewhere. Professional, commercial and governmental customers generally stuck with pro labs.

When digital arrived 'experts' argued how many megapixels would be needed to equal Kodachrome 25 - common answers were over 13 MP. As each new generation of digital P&S evolved, folks scrambled to get the latest. Sales exploded to >100 million by 2012. Funny thing, once P&S's hit ~20 MP the need to buy yet another newer version stalled for most people. Meanwhile every type of retail outlet had jumped on the trend and were in competition with camera stores. Walmart, Target, Costco, Best Buy had all built extensive 'camera departments'.

Somewhere along the line some of the 'New York sources' with notoriously shady business practices were reformed or eliminated. New York sources became serious, customer focused competition.

The story goes on. Someday someone will make this evolution into a Harvard Business School case study. 'Til then just support your local camera store... if you still have one!
 
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neuroanatomist

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I always try to buy gear from my local camera store. Luckily I live around Boston MA so Hunt's Photo is my vendor of choice.
I also I live near Boston. Many years ago (prior to Canon’s implementation of their MAP policy and Hunt’s ‘price guarantee’), Hunt’s lens prices were higher than all of the online retailers, by a meaningful amount.

When I knew what I wanted (which I usually do), I would order online. It wasn’t about avoiding sales tax (I paid use tax on my purchases, although admittedly doing so for the 600/4 II was unpalatable), but in a competitive market offering a lower price is an advantage.

However, on several occasions when buying camera bags (I have more of them than my wife has purses), I would bring gear into a Hunt’s location to test the fit. In that case, I’d always buy from the store where I tried the gear, even if the bag was cheaper online.

Since the Canon leveled the field with MAP, I frequently buy from Hunt’s if they have what I want in stock.
 

Mt Spokane Photography

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5 years or so ago, there were 3 Pro Camera Stores within driving distance (17 - 40 miles). I bought several cameras from them and even "L" lenses. Now, one is gone and the other two don't sell pro level cameras any longer. They could not compete with the online stores and Canon dropped one from the authorized list while the bigger one has switched totally to selling high end audio/video and high end small home appliances. Things that places like Best Buy don't sell. I drool when I see the new McIntosh tube type amps on display. Then, I remember that I am now totally deaf and am lucky to hear speech using cochlear implants. I need to sell off my existing stuff, I have some decently nice audio gear.

The larger store tried mightily to compete online, they were 3rd largest behind B&H / Adorama 20 years ago. Finally, they had to stop bleeding losses and as the younger generation took over the 110 year old dealer, they found a profitable niche. There are still stores in the Seattle Tacoma area but that's a 600 mile round trip.
 

stevelee

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I used to buy color slide film from Wolf Camera 21 years ago. It was not sold many places even then. I did find a store next to Charles Bridge in Prague where I could buy more, which I did every time I came near the bridge. It was Prague. I got the slides developed at Wolf. Then I got a digital camera and no longer needed darkroom supplies or slide processing.

There is still supposedly a camera store 25 or more miles from me. There are Best Buys 7.5 and 10 miles from me. The latter is what has functioned as my local camera shop. I have not been there since the pandemic, so I don’t know its current status. It was surprisingly well stocked and had knowledgeable people working in that department back then. If you started seriously considering a particular camera, they would hand you off to someone who shot that brand. On the way home from a classmate’s funeral, I decided life was too short and uncertain to put off buying the 16-35 f/4 until October and stopped there. Luckily they had it is stock, and the young guy from whom I bought my 6D2 was coincidentally there. He said his photography business was taking off, so he had cut way back on his hours at the store.

My last camera purchase there was prior to my fall, 2019, trip to Italy and then a Mediterranean cruise. They had the G5X II in stock, and I could try it out as well as the M50 and the Sony model they had changed the wrong way for me (making it slower and zoom longer). I would not have expected any better service from a dedicated camera store.
 

old-pr-pix

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One could track the rise and fall of the camera industry just by measuring the number of feet of dedicated display space and its location at your local Costco. At the peak the nearest Costco had multiple central isle displays with models like Canon xxD, 7D, and even 5D series on occasion. The P&S display was over 25 feet long. Now Costco only has about 3 feet of display tucked into a back corner with no higher end models. Target and Walmart are about the same. Only Best Buy seems to still make an effort. Local Best Buy has dedicated brand representatives often on site, significant display of key models including R5/6, and a few lenses. They even stock some Olympus models and lenses. Still, its not like the old days where a good pro shop would have stacks of stacks of main manufacturer and third party lenses including several big whites!

Perhaps the largest pro shop in the area closed a few years back. The owner later reopened in a different location as a used camera dealer with in-store and on-line presence. Must be doing something right as they recently expanded their showroom. Great source of knowledge on a huge range of models. Frequently really interesting deals too - best to leave the credit card at home when visiting!
 
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canonmike

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One could track the rise and fall of the camera industry just by measuring the number of feet of dedicated display space and its location at your local Costco. At the peak the nearest Costco had multiple central isle displays with models like Canon xxD, 7D, and even 5D series on occasion. The P&S display was over 25 feet long. Now Costco only has about 3 feet of display tucked into a back corner with no higher end models. Target and Walmart are about the same. Only Best Buy seems to still make an effort. Local Best Buy has dedicated brand representatives often on site, significant display of key models including R5/6, and a few lenses. They even stock some Olympus models and lenses. Still, its not like the old days where a good pro shop would have stacks of stacks of main manufacturer and third party lenses including several big whites!

Perhaps the largest pro shop in the area closed a few years back. The owner later reopened in a different location as a used camera dealer with in-store and on-line presence. Must be doing something right as they recently expanded their showroom. Great source of knowledge on a huge range of models. Frequently really interesting deals too - best to leave the credit card at home when visiting!
I keep hearing good things about Best Buys camera offerings, high end stock on hand, as well as a few good reports on their sales people. Until recently, however, it didn't matter how much inventory they had in store because they wouldn't let you in to look at anything. Due to their Covid restrictions, you were required to purchase on line and pick up whatever you purchased at the curb, where someone would bring it out to you. Hopefully, this is now behind us, so based on these Best Buy reports, after calling my closest BB store (about 30 mi away), to make sure you can go inside and browse, I'll then have to go check their camera depts out and decide for myself.
 

Czardoom

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It's not just camera stores of course. Online shopping is eliminating most every type of brick & mortar business. We used to have 4 art stores in my area, for example, now just one. I just drove past a huge 100+ plus store mall that is now being torn down. It was shocking in a way, but also inevitable. While there are still some folks like the OP who believe it is important to support local businesses (as I do), but the convenience (and usually lower price) of buying online will spell the doom of almost all brick and mortar stores. And as we move forward, the next generation or two of buyers will think online shopping is the only way to go, as that will the "normal" way of shopping for them. Not sure if there is an answer when you can even buy a car online now, something that seems totally absurd to me, as I would never buy a car without giving it a test drive. Or shoes, which I need to try on first to see if they fit and are comfortable.
 
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YuengLinger

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The fate of many camera stores was sealed with the advent of digital. In the pre-digital era, if you were a serious photographer you worked in black and white and did your own processing and enlarging. When I took up photography in high school I became a very good customer of one of the local camera stores in my hometown but I never bought a single camera or lens there. What I did buy were reams of photo paper, bulk Tri-X that I rolled into cassettes myself and lots of chemicals.

About 80% of the floor space of the store was devoted to darkroom equipment and supplies, with cameras comprising just a few counter display cases. Selling a camera was a nice bit of gravy, but the bread and butter were the consumables, which were sold to amateurs, professionals and commercial users...
Never having developed anything myself, except during one semester in school, this never occurred to me. Thanks for the insights.
 
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AlanF

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It's not just camera stores of course. Online shopping is eliminating most every type of brick & mortar business. We used to have 4 art stores in my area, for example, now just one. I just drove past a huge 100+ plus store mall that is now being torn down. It was shocking in a way, but also inevitable. While there are still some folks like the OP who believe it is important to support local businesses (as I do), but the convenience (and usually lower price) of buying online will spell the doom of almost all brick and mortar stores. And as we move forward, the next generation or two of buyers will think online shopping is the only way to go, as that will the "normal" way of shopping for them. Not sure if there is an answer when you can even buy a car online now, something that seems totally absurd to me, as I would never buy a car without giving it a test drive. Or shoes, which I need to try on first to see if they fit and are comfortable.
When driverless cars are finally approved, you will be able to order a new car via an app or on line and it will drive itself to you for a test drive without a salesman. That's if you bother to buy rather than dial-a-driverless car to hire whenever you need one.
 

Codebunny

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It's not just camera stores of course. Online shopping is eliminating most every type of brick & mortar business. We used to have 4 art stores in my area, for example, now just one. I just drove past a huge 100+ plus store mall that is now being torn down. It was shocking in a way, but also inevitable. While there are still some folks like the OP who believe it is important to support local businesses (as I do), but the convenience (and usually lower price) of buying online will spell the doom of almost all brick and mortar stores. And as we move forward, the next generation or two of buyers will think online shopping is the only way to go, as that will the "normal" way of shopping for them. Not sure if there is an answer when you can even buy a car online now, something that seems totally absurd to me, as I would never buy a car without giving it a test drive. Or shoes, which I need to try on first to see if they fit and are comfortable.

I get same day delivery to a village, why would I go to a shop to buy a groceries or a camera?

Why wouldn't I pick the car I want online and have it delivered to me? I can send it back if it doesn't match the expectations.

Same for shoes, I know my size. If I order some shoes just now they'll be here between 18:00 and 20:00 and if they don't fix they'll get picked up in the morning with the size up or down delivered with them.

How can a brick and mortar shop possibly compete? If I want to buy a camera in one then some human is going to get in my way and try recommend me other things or talk. If I go to a grocery store there are people there trying to talk to you and limits for the self checkout. If I buy a car in person, now I have to talk to some sales person on commission that is trying to sell me finance when I have the money and just want the blasted keys.
 

SteveC

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I get same day delivery to a village, why would I go to a shop to buy a groceries or a camera?

Why wouldn't I pick the car I want online and have it delivered to me? I can send it back if it doesn't match the expectations.

Same for shoes, I know my size. If I order some shoes just now they'll be here between 18:00 and 20:00 and if they don't fix they'll get picked up in the morning with the size up or down delivered with them.

How can a brick and mortar shop possibly compete? If I want to buy a camera in one then some human is going to get in my way and try recommend me other things or talk. If I go to a grocery store there are people there trying to talk to you and limits for the self checkout. If I buy a car in person, now I have to talk to some sales person on commission that is trying to sell me finance when I have the money and just want the blasted keys.
I'm reminded of the last time I was in the market for a new car...went to the dealership for the model I wanted and the damned salesman wouldn't talk price, just payment. I walked out.

Eventually after rejecting almost every other model out there, I discovered that the markup on my original choice was BIG. I went back to that dealership, made it clear that if I didn't get what I wanted, I'd simply go to one of the three dealerships in Denver [thus killing their monopoly mindset] and got a salesman who would discuss price not payment. I got the car at a pretty good price. The first salesman walked by, saw me and gloated that I had come back.

Yeah, but YOU didn't get the commission!
 
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AlanF

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Aug 16, 2012
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I get same day delivery to a village, why would I go to a shop to buy a groceries or a camera?

Why wouldn't I pick the car I want online and have it delivered to me? I can send it back if it doesn't match the expectations.

Same for shoes, I know my size. If I order some shoes just now they'll be here between 18:00 and 20:00 and if they don't fix they'll get picked up in the morning with the size up or down delivered with them.

How can a brick and mortar shop possibly compete? If I want to buy a camera in one then some human is going to get in my way and try recommend me other things or talk. If I go to a grocery store there are people there trying to talk to you and limits for the self checkout. If I buy a car in person, now I have to talk to some sales person on commission that is trying to sell me finance when I have the money and just want the blasted keys.
What you say about sending back is very relevant. Buy on-line in UK and EU and you can test and send it back for 14 days as a legal right and many dealers offering 30 days no quibble return. When I buy from my local dealer, he will let me try it out if he has it in stock, but not if he has to order it for me. So, if he gets me a lens that is soft or decentred, I've had it. John Lewis, a good departmental store, will allow a no quibble return.
 

Codebunny

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What you say about sending back is very relevant. Buy on-line in UK and EU and you can test and send it back for 14 days as a legal right and many dealers offering 30 days no quibble return. When I buy from my local dealer, he will let me try it out if he has it in stock, but not if he has to order it for me. So, if he gets me a lens that is soft or decentred, I've had it. John Lewis, a good departmental store, will allow a no quibble return.

Aye, it really is a better experience. I know some people have this nostalgic image of going into this little camera shop with the skilled and passionate staff... but that isn't anything like any camera shop I have ever been in. You get some 20 something year old that is funding uni while the manager is bean counting how many extended warranties have been sold and if you want that special lens well it will be in the store in 2-6 weeks time.