Visiting Camera Shops Is (Should Be) Fun!

I make a point of going out of my way to visit camera shops when I travel to any city or town if there is one to stop in and say hello. First, I never know what I might find. And second, there’s a joy in keeping these stores in business, poking around the used cameras and lenses. Chatting up the staff about all things photography. Maybe finding a ratty old Domke bag.

You don’t know if you don’t stop in.

Downtown Colorado Springs with 14k’ Pikes Peak mountain in the background.

So, I was in Colorado Springs yesterday and stopped in at two camera shops, Camera Works and Mike’s Camera. There was a third place, Cloutier Fotographic which sounded cool with a name like that, but was closed on Mondays. I drove to it anyway to see it, and found nothing at the address that it’s listed at, 415 N. Tejon Street. Their web site says they are available by appointment only, so not sure what their deal is.

So, off to Camera Works, which had much more used equipment of the two shops. 4×5 and 2×3 enlargers sat in the front window. I’ve been here before, this store is the main reason I came to the Springs, and as soon as I saw darkroom items, they had me. Like a kid in a candy shop. I lit up. This was going to be good.

Camera Works, perhaps not the most inviting exterior, but the shopping center looks to be under renovations.

I stepped further inside and saw several, no, many boxes and cases of 4×5 and 8×10 film camera equipment sitting on the counter. How exciting! There were literally boxes and cases covering the whole glass display case.

I saw a couple of Graflex cases. Two wooden cases with latches. Some cardboard boxes with film holders. Canvas and cordura bags. I was so excited to find out what they had, even though I probably couldn’t afford most of it, though if the right item were to present itself… (You know how that goes.)

In any case, it’s always fun to look, and to chat photography with the staff.

That’s what’s most fun about visiting–the conversation–besides poking around camera shop and finding a used doo-dad (if not a camera or lens) that might be a fun thing that inspires a new photo shoot.

The first salesman, a young guy in his 20s maybe, came over to offer me help. I asked about the gear on the counter and he said none of the gear that was there was available to look at. It hadn’t been checked into the store’s inventory yet. So, it wasn’t available for sale–not only that, he said we couldn’t even look at it. Not even open the cases.

Huh. That was no fun. When were they going to check it in? How long does that take? When did it arrive? What are they waiting for? I’m here now from out-of-town.

Next, an older gentleman came over, and offered mostly the same info. He seemed a bit lethargic, un-enthused. I explained I had traveled about two hours to get here, don’t get down to the Springs much, and had I no idea when I’d be down to their city next, if there was any way to see what had come in. He said no, he couldn’t show me but he could take my name and phone number and call me. Okay.

I wanted the experience to be one that was about the joy of photography, photographers talking shop together, excitedly looking at cameras and lenses, talking film, photography, you know, all about the creative.

Instead, it seemed like I was annoying them.

I felt like a wall went up, I guess because I was interested in the things that weren’t for sale. I asked if there were any used camera bags, or other small oddball stuff, but there were none.

No one ever asked who I was, what I do, what I like to do, what my experience was as a photographer. It was strictly transactional–they were salesmen, I was customer. Is there anything you want to buy?

I walked around the store one more time. I really didn’t want to leave, but there was no one to talk to. It wasn’t like there were other customers–I was the only one in the shop. I wished them well and said goodbye.

Looking back, I wish I had engaged them and found out a bit about them as photographers, how they got to be there, but we never became conversational. A missed opportunity that doesn’t put cash in the coffers, I know.

The second camera shop, Mike’s Camera, was mostly new stuff and a young guy touting digital mirrorless, which I wasn’t interested in. He really didn’t seem to be into photography, but mainly gear, and the one item I was interested in, an old Sunpak potato-masher flash, I offered a slightly lower price to the marked price which he said he couldn’t do–I could see why, his name badge said “In Training”. Would have been nice if he asked someone else if they could work with me on the price, but he didn’t. Instead he pulled out the latest Sony camera to show me. I left feeling like I was leaving an electronics store more than a camera shop.

Overall, I want to support camera shops and bring together people around film photography (and all photography) wherever I can. To be passionate for cameras and more importantly, the art of the photograph. The wonder of this magical invention that can stop (and save) time.

Enthused. Excited. Like I am. I love all things photography! (You know me.)

Instead, I felt like I met people who were tired and just going through the motions. Looking to make a sale, but not jazzed about the art. Who had no interest in the customer or photographer, just the business transaction.

How do you inspire young photographers and those new to shooting film if the experience isn’t one that is enthusiastic and encouraging? Positive and inspiring?

Or am I just nostalgic for something that no longer exists? A photographer’s hangout that closed its doors a long time ago?

It won’t stop me from heading into another camera shop the next time I’m in a town with one. I just hope they continue to exist and realize what a special role they play in the world of photography, one that started in 1839 and still continues today. And how important it is to be upbeat and positive about the art of photography. That the role that they play is vitally important to keeping photography alive, (especially film photography) and not have it evolve into just a side aisle in the big box electronics store.

The camera shop salesperson is not only selling cameras, but selling joy, art and wonder. The gift of creating memories. It’s a tremendous responsibility. Visit a camera shop whenever you can and support them.

Otherwise, it will be like the experience I had while traveling in Madison Wisconsin. I picked up my phone and said to Siri, “Find me camera stores near me.” Honest truth, Siri replied, “What’s wrong with the camera in your hand?”

Leaving Colorado Springs but I’ll be back another day.

4 thoughts on “Visiting Camera Shops Is (Should Be) Fun!

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  1. If you find yourself down Albuquerque way drop in at Camera & Darkroom. Nothing but film gear, and loads of it. I’ve not been in the place for a few years now (I’m a Colorado guy too) but try to stop in whenever I find myself in the area. They have a smaller location in Santa Fe, but the good one is Albuquerque.


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