The closing of Photo Cullen photo shop in Montclair is on Jan. 15, 2018.
With the closing of a Montclair photo shop that had been in town for over 90 years, a look at other photo shops and how they stay in business in a digital world.
When Photo Cullen closes its doors on Monday, the shop on Valley Road in Montclair that has been in town for over 90 years will be another of the independent camera stores in Northern New Jersey that will be shuttering their business.
In recent years, Sandrian Camera in Morristown and Hudson Camera in Jersey City have closed their doors, just to name a few, due to such factors as digital photography, people using their iPhones as cameras, and the dominance of online and big-box stores for camera purchases.
Kent Hallander, the 81-year-old owner of Photo Cullen, whose family had purchased the business from the Cullen family in 1959, told The Montclair Times and NorthJersey.com it was time to move on.
“We were still quite vibrant until two, three years ago. I should have retired then,” Hallander said. “The proceeds just dropped and I couldn’t get them back.”
However, other standalone camera stores have been able to keep their business snapping and maintain their exposure in a challenging retail world such as Unique Photo in Fairfield, Wholesale Photo in Midland Park, Millburn Camera ASAP Photo in Millburn, and Bergen County Camera in Westwood.
Tom Gramegna, who has run Bergen County Camera with his brother Bob since they purchased the business from its previous owner in 1980, cited that they have been able to be successful by staying up on the latest technology, and catering to their customers by offering classes and equipment demos.
“It’s really trying to satisfy as many needs as possible of a large group of people who are interested in photography,” Gramegna said.
Time has lapsed
There were no customers waiting to come into Photo Cullen Thursday morning even though there were flyers taped to its windows enticing them with “SALE 50% OFF.”
Hallander did take a phone call or two from customers. Otherwise, he had time to put out empty boxes and talk to a reporter in these final few days of business.
“It’s been hectic being on my own,” said Hallander, who only had one part-time worker for two hours for the last several years. And he was going to be solo trying to sell off cameras, camera bags, tripods and other inventory by Monday.
He then offered why physical photos and the equipment used to make them possible should matter to a younger generation in the digital age.
“When they reach my age, they’re not going to have a record of their trip through life because they are going to be long gone,” Hallander warned. “Everything in electronics disappears every three to four years.”
He then recalled better days when starting in the shop in 1960 as a stock boy, just after getting out of the Air Force.
“Photography was a good business at that time,” Hallander said. “People took pictures, even more important, they printed pictures, lots of pictures.”
And a lot of good business making “good money” selling top-level cameras such as Leica, Hasselblad, Kodak, and other brands. He has a few of those cameras left, such as a 1920’s-era Kodak Autograph folding camera that he planned to sell on EBay.
Hallander said when business started slowing down with the advent of digital cameras, he developed other skills to supplement income.
“I became an expert on restoring old photographs, and that’s what I have been doing for the last 10 to 12 years,” Hallander said.
That’s what he plans to do along with selling antique cameras while he is at Wayne home with his wife, who he admitted wanted him to spend more time with her.
Rays of light
Gramegna said when he and his brother first ran Bergen County Camera in 1980, loading film and point-and-shoot cameras was the bread-and-butter of photography.
When digital cameras came around and online competitors surfaced peddling the new technology, he said his store was able to keep up by keeping up with the times.
“Part of it is by being involved in our business in every way, shape and form, and that means being part of trade associations that help us stay on top of things,” Gramegna said. “You have to have your sights all over the place, you have to be online, you have to be on the cutting edge of knowledge.”
Gramegna also pointed out that a certain principle always needs to be followed for long-time retailers to stay relevant.
“You have to remember to stay true to stay to your original goals. We’re a store that believes in the golden rule that if treat people, they will take care of you,” Gramegna said. “What was true in 1980 is still true in 2018.”
Carl Mink is the co-owner of Millburn Camera ASAP Photo, whose family has been in the camera business since 1968 as also owners of Livingston Camera.
He said that the secret to his family’s camera stores continuing to exist is being fluid.
“We have customers who try to make conversation and they say, ‘Wow, your business has certainly changed,’ and I say, ‘Yes, since yesterday’,” Mink said. “I am being tongue-in-cheek, but we are just changing and developing all of the time, and we made it our job to follow the changes.”
Mink then noted that despite the constant changes and innovations in photography, he does see hope for what has existed in the past.
“Our largest group of people who are using traditional silver-based, analog film is people who are under the age of 30,” Mink said. “There’s a tremendous, resurgent interest in those technologies and we are happy to service that niche.”
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