Saturday, April 12, 2014

The Return of The Local Camera Shop

I think the last REAL camera shop in Springfield, Illinois closed up in 1972 - or 1973. After that, all we had NO opportunity to buy photo gear locally until the "Big Box stores started to become prominent in the 1990's. And even with them, the only remotely 'serious' cameras you could see, handle and feel, were, for the most part, the entry level Canikon DSLRs. (Canon or Nikon).

If you were curious about anything else, you needed to schedule a trip to Peoria, Chicago, or St Louis. So many of us resorted to buying our equipment blind off the internet after pouring over any reviews we could find in the hopes of figuring out if the gear was remotely suitable to our needs. This is how I bought gear for a very long time. Most of my adult life really.

But about 18 months ago or so, by some miracle, a new camera shop opened up in Springfield! It was part of a small local St Louis based chain called "Creve Coeur Camera". I visited the place naturally, when it opened up, but to be honest, I didn't take it too seriously. Everyone knows the era of local camera shops is over, right? But I noticed that it DID carry the more 'serious' Olympus and Fuji cameras. Their stock, in my eyes, went up quite a bit. In addition to the ubiquitous Canon and Nikon brands, they were also showing some taste and judgement! (Don't be a hater, that was a joke).

As I became more aware of the new Olympus OMD E-M10, I could see it was "out of stock" most places and if it was "in stock" it was selling for pretty much list price. I felt that I would have to wait until the E-M10 was less popular to ever actually buy one. I didn't consider actually holding one, I knew that wasn't going to happen. Then I remembered "the new guy", maybe they could help me get one.

They not only COULD get me one, they had one in stock that I could actually hold and play with! No, I don't know if they've got any more, you'll have to ask them, but that's not the point of this post anyway!

My point is the camera shopping experience was SO much better than buying over the internet blind. I could hold the camera and see how it fit my hands. I could even try the camera out with my existing lenses. A most pleasant shopping experience. I paid cash for the E-M10 and a 4/3s to m4/3s lens converter. Since the camera was selling pretty much for list price everywhere, there wasn't a strong incentive for me to buy over the internet. 

The only extra cost was the State and local sales taxes. And the $75 extra, or so, I spent in those taxes, was fair compensation, I think, for the amount of time I spent testing out my 4/3s DSLR lenses, and other camera options before I bought. I'm pretty sure I was a complete PITA as I, went home, brought in all my existing gear and tried it out in the shop with no money changing hands.

I walked out of the shop knowing exactly how my current gear would work with my new E-M10 and how my photography would be affected overall. And I'm pretty sure THIS shop not only wanted my business but was interested in building a long term business relationship with me. I never felt like I was some sort of walking wallet to them.

The experience of shopping locally was so pleasant that I would encourage other people to give it a try. If you are younger than me, you might not even remember buying photo gear locally and just assume that anything like that would simply be too expensive. But it seems that the camera industry is starting to stabilize the prices at which new gear sells. More than the cheapest prices obviously, but nowhere near the high mark-up luxury prices of 40 years ago either.

Normally at this point, I would scream "price fixing!", but I wonder which is worse? Stable prices at a modest level but which helps insure your ability to CONVENIENTLY see, feel, and judge the merits of a given camera, or highly volatile prices that almost guarantee your first experience with a camera will be when you've paid for it and taken delivery?

Low LOW prices are fantastic. But can we really say, overall, they have worked to the consumer's advantage when all we can see and handle are entry level Canikons at the big box store? Maybe a national fixed(ish) price that isn't TOO high will serve us better in the long run. This opens up new opportunities not only for the return of local shops, but for consumers as well. 

There is an incentive for investor to spend money on creating brick an mortar shops, (which helps with local employment in the photo industry, and promotes local involvement and awareness of photography); and the buyer gets a much more convenient way to experience and evaluate a given camera or other gear.  How much is something like that worth?

1 comment:

  1. Glen.....thanks for the great review. Since a very young age I have spent many summers in Springfield selling shoes. My family owned the SA Barkers company for many years and I worked all over this fine city. In the early 70 we even owned one of the first rack shoe stores in downtown called Warehouse of Shoes, plus Martins. Now as a business owner we felt Springfield was a natural for a Creve Coeur Camera. Thanks Stephen Weiss