Fishkin Bros. Camera To Go Out Of Business

Discussion in '35mm Cameras' started by Jeremy, Dec 3, 2004.

  1. Jeremy

    Jeremy Guest

    For 90 years they were a fixture in New York suburb of Perth Amboy, New
    Jersey. They had quite a following--amateurs and professionals from New
    York to Philadelphia, and the entire state of New Jersey.

    Why? Because they knew their stuff, and did not treat their customers like
    those New York camera stores. They had a broad inventory and their prices,
    while a bit high, reflected the level of support they gave you.

    If you needed refrigerated professional film, they had it. If you needed
    repairs on virtually anything photographic, they could arrange for it. If
    you wanted to trade in your equipment, they'd try to accommodate you. They
    had a really good used department, for those that wanted to get in cheaply.

    I bought my first 35mm camera and lens there--a Pentax Spotmatic IIa with
    50mm SMC Takumar lens. I still own, and use, that camera--30 years later!

    Fishkin Bros. also sold sporting goods--bicycles, models, Lionel trains,
    you-name-it. They must've been hit hard by the shopping malls that became
    dominant in the late 70s, because they turned most of their store over to
    photographic gear. This was a niche that they clearly dominated. Fishkin's
    wasn't no Ritz Camera--they were the real deal!

    When I last visited the store this past summer, I noticed that the store
    seemed a bit empty. Still lots of new and used Hassy lenses, but the Pentax
    line was gone. Nikon and Contax were available, as was the refrigerated
    professional films. But the used equipment was cut back substantially. In
    the front window, they had P&S models on display--with signs that said
    cameras were available starting at $39.99--not exactly the kind of sales
    figures that would pay the bills for them.

    Earlier this week they announced that they would be gone by the end of the
    month. They were selling their building and throwing in the towel after 9
    decades, and after having built up all that good-will.

    The reason: The Digital Explosion.

    Specialty shops like that depended upon those recurring small-ticket sales,
    like film sales and photofinishing (they were the only place in town that
    had Kodak processing. The messenger stopped by every day). Their sales of
    darkroom chemicals, papers, darkroom supplies--all withered away. I hadn't
    given it much thought, but those peripheral sales, small-ticket though they
    were, were the bread-and-butter items for that store. They were the sales
    that kept the register ringing. If they didn't sell a new Hasselblad and
    lens today, they still made enough to see a modest profit.

    No more.

    The entire digital environment works against the local camera specialty
    retailer. Digital was made for mail-order. You can get your cartridges,
    printing paper and software at either a big electronics retailer or by
    mail/internet. Who needs to drive 50 miles from home, to go to the only
    real photographic supply store in New Jersey?

    Even if you've never been to Perth Amboy, NJ and never heard of Fishkin
    Brothers, there is a lesson to be learned from their story. The current
    state of affairs in the world of photography is driving guys like them out
    of business, all across the country. Those bread-and-butter consumables
    sales are drying up fast, and it is polarizing the camera business. Either
    the shop tries to compete in the high-volume market or it dies a natural
    death. And we all know that there is not room for more than a few B&H
    Photos in this country.

    So raise a glass to the memory of Fishkin Bros Sporting Goods tonight. They
    were the real deal--and places like that are going, and won't be coming
    back.
     
    Jeremy, Dec 3, 2004
    #1
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  2. Jeremy

    Paul Bielec Guest

    I agree with you. It is sad but that's life. A business has to adapt in
    order to survive. I have a similar story to yours.

    In the '20, my grandfather opened his first photo studio in Lwow (used to be
    Poland, it is Ukraine today).
    Just before WWII he moved to Cracow where, although he passed away 2 years
    ago, the family shop is still running.
    My grandfather was the most renown portrait photographer in Cracow. He also
    had a Masters diploma from the Fine Art Academy. Everybody wanted to have
    their passport, wedding, graduation, first communion etc. picture taken at
    the family studio.
    You can see some pictures at the following links:
    http://www.foto-bielec.art.pl/
    http://www.mhf.krakow.pl/wystawy/bielec/
    In the first link in "Galeria 1" as well as the second link's second picture
    from the top on the right is a 19yo Karol Wojtyla, better known as Pope John
    Paul II. Picture taken on a glass negative. The camera you can see in the
    picture with my grandfather still works and makes better pictures that any
    of the cameras the studio owns.

    Until recently professional photographer diploma and association membership
    was required in order to run a photo studio. It is not required anymore.
    Anybody can buy a digital camera with printer and open a studio selling
    shitty pictures dirt cheap.
    My aunt has no choice, she can't beat the price, she has to beat the
    quality. She struggles hoping that, eventually, people will get tired of bad
    pictures and will be willing to spend money for professional work again.
    Meanwhile, in order to survive, she bought a digital camera as well. But
    there is as much effort put in producing high quality digital pictures that
    there was with film pictures.
    The digital made the photography more available. But even the most expensive
    digital or film camera doesn't make one a photographer.
     
    Paul Bielec, Dec 3, 2004
    #2
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  3. Jeremy,
    Thanks for a lovely, well-written essay. Those of us who have been
    photographers for many years join you in mourning the passing of such an
    institution.
    Ken
     
    Ken Rosenbaum, Dec 3, 2004
    #3
  4. Jeremy

    Annika1980 Guest

    From: "Jeremy"
    Yeah. Gotta keep up with the times.
    Perhaps if they'd ditched the film crap earlier and gone with a Fuji Frontier
    machine they'd still be in business?
     
    Annika1980, Dec 3, 2004
    #4
  5. Jeremy

    Annika1980 Guest

    From: "Paul Bielec"
    I'd agree with that. And legions of fools snapping pics with their cell phones
    provides the proof.
    But like you said at the start of your interesting story, "A business has to
    adapt in order to survive."
     
    Annika1980, Dec 3, 2004
    #5
  6. Jeremy

    Tony Guest

    Similar stores have gone out all over the country and have been doing so
    since long before digital arrived.
    Darkroom use has been declining steadily all the 38 years I've been
    involved in photography. The best camera store in my town went out of
    business around 1990, and in my old home town all three of the camera stroes
    I dealt with have been gone since the 80s.
     
    Tony, Dec 3, 2004
    #6
  7. Jeremy

    Jeremy Guest

    Perhaps if I had plonked you earlier, I would not have had to read your
    insulting remark.

    I'll correct that error right now . . .

    "P-L-O-N-K-!"
     
    Jeremy, Dec 3, 2004
    #7
  8. Jeremy

    Annika1980 Guest

    From: "Jeremy"
    What was insulting about my post?
    It's not like digital took over overnight. If you're in business you should've
    seen it coming 5 years ago.
     
    Annika1980, Dec 4, 2004
    #8
  9. Yes....When the big outfits like Long's Drugs started selling photographic
    equipment, the small mom & pop camera stores started to go out of business,
    and this happened back in the 60's.
    But some of the smaller stores can weather the storm. The guy near me
    has taken to digital real well. He still has his own processing lab for
    film, but he has added digital printing as well, and when you go into his
    store, he has a digital set up where he can take a photo and display it on a
    big screen in less time than it takes me to write this. He only charges
    perhaps 10% or less more than the big NY stores, and you get the benefit of
    his expertise, as well as a demo of everything before you buy. He keeps
    updating his equipment as soon as something new comes out, so you get to see
    the latest stuff, and he sells a lot of stuff to people just because they
    would rather spend a little bit more and be sure they will get something
    they can use and will be able to operate. His obvious enthusiasm for the
    digital medium spills over to his customers, and it keeps him in
    business.......
     
    William Graham, Dec 4, 2004
    #9
  10. Jeremy

    Jeremy Guest

    I'm glad to see that some merchants have adapted. But many of these
    traditional camera shops seem to have relied upon the recurring revenue from
    film and processing, and darkroom equipment and chemicals. When they sold
    you a camera, that was the beginning of what was hopefully a long
    relationship of future sales.

    There are not that many revenue opportunities when a shop sells a digital
    camera. First, future film sales are out. Second, it is likely that the
    customer will not go back there for prints. More likely he will buy an
    inkjet printer (and buy his consumables at the convenient electronics store
    like Best Buy) or he will use an online printer, as I do. The photo shop is
    no longer in the processing chain. The Internet has replaced the photo shop
    as a means of getting the images to the printing source.

    There is very little left to offer the customer, except printing services.
    And, as good as the prints may be, I'd bet that most customers will select
    other options. Especially the customers that are not all that particular
    about their prints--they can go to Wal-Mart or to the drug store and get
    them while they wait. Admittedly, these are not big-ticket customers, but
    their revenue in the aggregate was significant. And the camera dealer
    probably is not going to keep those folks coming back.

    I just can't see how the small community camera dealers can stay in business
    for very long. Even the big chains like Ritz must feel the competition--why
    would anybody go out of their way to buy a camera at Ritz when they can get
    many of the same models at Sam's Club, or Costco or Best Buy or Circuit
    City?? (I'm referring to consumer buyers) Ritz had positioned themselves
    as a low-cost vendor of SLRs, by replacing the OEM lens with a Quanterray
    (hell, the customer never knew the difference!) They can't do that with P&S
    digicams--and the P&S models are the ones that are selling in large
    quantities. So how long before Ritz starts consolidating their stores???

    Digital is taking the camera and consumables business away from the
    specialty shops and is making it into a mainline commodity. Do you remember
    when there were stores that sold only TELEPHONES, for a few years after
    divestiture of the Baby Bells? They popped up all over America, and they
    disappeared when people could buy phones wherever they shopped. If that
    does not parallel the camera retail business, I don't know what does.

    Here in Philadelphia I have noticed several one-hour film processors have
    closed their doors. Their bread-and-butter customers aren't bringing in
    their film for processing in the numbers they once did.

    I know that we tend to scoff at those mass-market consumers--the ones that
    used to shoot on Kodak Instamatics, and before then on Kodak Brownie
    cameras. But they represented many millions of prints every year, and many
    rolls of film to be processed. And much of that business--that had
    previously been the exclusive domain of camera stores--is now gone.

    When camera stores sell only cameras--not all the other stuff that used to
    be associated with photography--how can they operate profitably? I hate
    being the pessimist, but the handwriting is on the wall.
     
    Jeremy, Dec 4, 2004
    #10
  11. Jeremy

    Michael Guest

    So does the retail future point to the Wal Marts and Home Depots?
    This is a frightening thought for me.

    Michael.
     
    Michael, Dec 4, 2004
    #11
  12. Jeremy

    Lisa Horton Guest

    Actually, for the adaptable merchant, there are continuing opportunities
    from digital. A great many people don't want to make their own prints,
    it's more expensive and time consuming to print at home. And most
    snapshot shooters don't want to learn what they need to learn to make
    good prints at home. Making prints from digital is a BIG growth area
    right now.

    There are also things like batteries, acessories, chargers, add-ons,
    etc. While the experienced photographer may know that they can get all
    of these things cheaper from B&H, your average consumer has no clue
    about that. And they often appreciate the hand holding and advice they
    can only get in person.

    My local camera store has embraced digital in a big way. They make
    prints, provide various services, and also sell supplies for the
    hobbyist who prints their own. They (the store) are once again thriving
    and busy. And they're selling TONS of digital cameras, from basic point
    and shoots to mid-range DSLRs, at prices nearly as good as B&H.

    While it's sad that your local institution is going away, it is by no
    means the death knell of the local photo retailer.

    Lisa
     
    Lisa Horton, Dec 4, 2004
    #12
  13. Sad, one of my favorite memories was making my first mistake working at Omega Satter
    customer service, ya see I shipped lots of equipment to most of the biggest photo dealers
    around this counrty at one point or another.

    The Fishkin Brothers bought alot of Omega Arkay products. My very first big mistake was shipping
    a CD 80 dryer to them instead of a requested CD40. One had to be truck shipped the other
    UPS shippable. It was a big mistake, and the Fishkins had to be informed prior to shippment
    so that the truck could schedule, for what ever reason. I think there was some rather angry
    words initially ,...if I recall correctly however after several; months I always enjoyed talking with them
    when they phoned to order. Once they found out I actually knew something about photography
    they were really great people to talk with and appreciated me when I became very knowledgable
    regarding answers to more technical questions .

    I beleive I recall the Brothers by name were Steve and Paul, so I tip my hat to them and wish them good
    luck in future endeavors.
     
    Gregory W Blank, Dec 4, 2004
    #13
  14. Jeremy

    Jeremy Guest

    Well, I was focusing on the consumer photo market. Advanced amateurs and
    true professional will always have their B&Hs and Adoramas. But the typical
    American consumer--the one that bought their Brownie Starmite camera after
    seeing it on Kodak-sponsored "Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet," or the guy
    that bought an Instamatic after seeing it featured on one of those old
    Michael Landon commercials--that consumer is probably never going to walk
    into a camera store again.

    So, yes, I think that Wal-Mart has become a dominant player with that crowd
    (what HAVEN'T they taken over?)

    The American consumer is probably taking more pictures than at any previous
    time in history. If those pictures had been taken on film, Kodak would
    still be a blue chip stock.

    Instead of the old advertising slogan "We use Kodak paper--for a good look,"
    that consumer is buying Epson printers or HP ink cartridges, and is shooting
    on Casio or Samsung consumer digital cameras. He is paying a lot for his
    newfound hobby, but that revenue is not going to the traditional
    Kodak-and-authorized-dealer chain.

    And how long can stores sell used equipment? It is one thing to buy a used
    Yashica Mat 124-G, or a used Nikon F3, but what possible market can there be
    for used digicams? Probably not much more potential than the used cellular
    phone market--in other words, nonexistent.

    Anybody want to buy a bag phone?
     
    Jeremy, Dec 4, 2004
    #14
  15. Jeremy

    Annika1980 Guest

    From: "William Graham"
    Sounds like my kind of guy!
     
    Annika1980, Dec 4, 2004
    #15
  16. Jeremy

    Annika1980 Guest

    From: "Jeremy"
    This is very true and is just another example of types of business that are
    killed off by Walmart. They are doing the same thing to portrait photographers
    by offering prices that nobody can match. They can take a loss on their
    portrait business if they have to just to get folks through the door.
    And who needs quality anymore when you can go to Walmart and eat a Big Mac in
    the McDonalds inside while you wait for your $0.25 prints on the Matte finish?
     
    Annika1980, Dec 4, 2004
    #16
  17. Jeremy

    Annika1980 Guest

    From: (Annika1980)
    I forgot to mention one other thing about Walmart. If your pics are really
    good, they won't print them unless you can prove you're a pro.
     
    Annika1980, Dec 4, 2004
    #17
  18. Jeremy

    Skip M Guest

    Why plonk him? What he said, though brutally expressed, has validity. One
    of my local stores, when they found themselves selling less and less film,
    paper, etc, started selling high end printers and inkjet papers (Ilford,
    Museo, Lumijet), a wide assortment of inks, just that day to day stuff that
    Agfa paper and Fuji film was a few years ago. And they do their own
    printing, they've developed a reputation as a pro level lab serving a
    sizeable chunk of the pro photographers in North San Diego County. Of
    course, they still sell paper and film, just less of it than before. You
    can go in there and see a Canon 1v on the shelf, right next to a Canon 1D
    mkII.
    Now, they've sold out to Calumet, who wanted their expertise in the consumer
    and digital markets.
    Adapt or die...
     
    Skip M, Dec 4, 2004
    #18
  19. Jeremy

    Skip M Guest

    My local store, like I said in a previous post, has really gotten a handle
    on digital. They offer a service called Silverwire. I email in a digital
    file, and it's printed in 24 hours. An 8x10 costs $3.99. I spend 50 cents
    just on paper for that size print... I can pick it up at the lab, or they
    will mail it to me.
     
    Skip M, Dec 4, 2004
    #19
  20. Jeremy

    Tony Guest

    There used to be stables in every neighbourhood too. I don't think too many
    blacksmiths starved to death with the advent of the automobile.
    My lab has been doing jes'fine for at least 15 years. In that time the
    custom printing they do has gome from completely chemical to about 80
    percent inkjet. You can adapt and make money, or you can cry a lot and go
    out of business. I can't say I've got much sympathy for those who claim to
    be unable to make money off digital. They must have been doing something
    very poorly.
     
    Tony, Dec 4, 2004
    #20
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