When I was growing up in Muncie, Indiana, my father taught me about photography. Brownie Hawkeye, developing pictures in the bathroom, Kodak plastic tank with an apron to keep the film from sticking together, Kodak Tri-Chem Pak, contact frame, 60 watt bare bulb — I’m sure you old timers know the drill. We bought supplies at the local drug store. After I went away to high school, borrowed my father’s folding Zeiss 645 camera and started on what seemed to me as a sort of career as a photojournalist and event photographer (newspaper, yearbook, etc), I started going to the local camera store, Jack’s Camera. I bought my first 35 there, an Argus C3 (a bow-wow of a camera, but cheap). In 1958, I spent a whole summer’s wages on a used Nikon S2 that a local press photographer had bought new. I bought a used Speed Graphic 3 1/4 x 4 1/4, and traded it in very quickly on the 4×5 version.
I hung around Jack’s, and people — sometimes the staff, sometimes the customers — would teach me things. News photogs would show off prints, especially right after the Indy 500. They knew I didn’t have much money, and they weren’t going to sell me a lot. It didn’t seem to make any difference in the way I was treated. For a kid like me, Jack’s was school, clubhouse, and church, all rolled up in one.
When I went to Stanford in 1960, I started taking pictures for the Chaparral, the school’s humor magazine, and became Photo Editor. The Chappie had an account with The Camera Shop on Bryant Street in Palo Alto. Sorry, I can’t provide you link to it; it closed in the mid 1970s. I knew all the salesmen (and they were all men) at The Camera Shop, and many of the customers. We traded stories. After I graduated, I got gigs through contacts I made there. My wife once gave me a Nikon F for my birthday. Knowing how expensive the camera was, afraid she’d been taken advantage of, but not wanting to do anything that could be thought of as looking a gift horse in the mouth, I tracked down the salesman who’d sold it to her and asked what she’d paid. Turns out he knew she was married to me and that is was a present, so he gave her a great deal; in fact, one that he wouldn’t have done for me.
When The Camera Shop closed down, I moved a few miles south to Keeble and Shuchat, on California Avenue in Palo Alto. I was surprised and pleased to find many of the former Camera Shop salesmen there. It felt like coming home. KSP was a bigger and better store in every way, though, and were oriented towards professional equipment. After a few years, they opened up another shop across the street that sold only medium and large format gear and studio equipment. When I because serious about photography in about 1980, I started spending a lot of time at KSP. Not only did I buy Dektol and bricks of CPS, I bought Hasselblads, Arca Swiss cameras, a Linhof, a Sinar, all manner of lenses, and a 9-foot long stainless steel sink. They had a gallery upstairs, and they gave a show of my work. Most all the salesmen (and, at KSP, one saleswoman) were photographers. We’d look at each others pictures and talk gear and processing tricks. When I’d visit with one of my sons, they’d be in awe of how everybody knew me, and I them. They’d never seen a store like that.
In 1999, I moved away from the Bay Area. I would sometime drop into KSP on my way to somewhere else, but it was too far to make a special trip just to fondle and purchase gear. I did it mostly by phone, but I continued to be a good customer: an Imacon scanner, a H2D-39, A Fuji Pictrography and an Epson 9000 printer — these weren’t bargain basement items.
Over the years, I bought less and less from KSP, and more and more from the likes of B&H. KSp wasn’t really set up for Internet sales; they didn’t stock to B&H levels; it was hard to find what you were looking for from a distance.
Today, I read this sad story. I suppose I knew it was inevitable. I suppose I even contributed to their demise through taking my business elsewhere. And I suppose it’s my own damn fault for not paying attention that I found out about it well after they’d closed the doors.
I just wish I could have driven up there to say goodbye.