- Associated Press - Sunday, March 16, 2014

PENSACOLA, Fla. (AP) - Pensacola Photo Supply is closing shop after 61 years in business, so if you want to get a picture of the place with the old Pensacola Photo Supply sign, you better go now.

Might as well bring your iPhone to snap up the memories. Everyone else does, which is one reason the long-revered shop on is having to close later this month after opening in 1953.

“Every phone has a camera on it,” said employee Steve Grenot, 59. “People don’t look at photography they way they used to. They’re disposable now. Nobody prints photos. They just push a button, and the photos get lost on their phone.”

When owner Margie McKinnon acquired the store in 1984, she didn’t know a thing about photography.

“We were looking for a business to buy,” she said. “We had about $5,000 to put down. I thought about a print shop, but that seemed like a headache. Then maybe a bakery, but you have to get up at 2 a.m. This was the third choice.”

When she took over the already decades-old store in the mid-‘80s, she practically rebuilt the place from scratch, Grenot said.

“It’s sad,” Grenot said. “Margie put her heart and soul into this place. We took out the ceilings, chiseled the walls, everything.”

And business was good. Pensacola Photo Supply earned a reputation as a place not only to find equipment and to get film processed, but to learn from experienced photographers. McKinnon surrounded herself with talented photographers - many former military photographers - and thrived on customer service.

“This was the place you came to learn about what you were buying,” said Tim Ludvigsen, who runs his own professional photography business. “We’re losing that knowledge. When you go to a box store, the people behind the counter won’t be there in 10 years. This people were here year after year and you could depend on them. That’s why we kept coming back.”

Ludvigsen even worked at Pensacola Photo Supply - three different times.

“If you wanted to work where all the professionals were,” he said, “then this was the place.”

College photography students learned out-of-school lessons there. Some got jobs there.

“She was the biggest supporter of the photo programs,” said Jim McDade, a longtime employee since the late 1980s. “Every student who walks in has a friend. She was always giving student discounts. They would ask us questions they wouldn’t ask a teacher. It’s been a home for virtually every student who has gone through town in the last 30 years.”

One of those students was Leah Williams, now a professional photographer in Birmingham, who first ventured into Pensacola Photo Supply as a Pensacola Junior College photography student in the late 1990s.

She eventually went to work for Pensacola Photo Supply a year or so later.

“I learned so much here,” she said during a recent visit to Pensacola Photo Supply, where she swapped stories with McKinnnon and current and former employees. “I took everything I learned here and took it to heart and use all that knowledge in my own business. This place is part of my heart.”

But it wasn’t just students. Even seasoned professionals were regulars at the store, including a flock of News Journal photographers through the years.

PNJ photographer Bruce Graner said Pensacola is losing a valuable resource with the closing of Pensacola Photo Supply.

“I had to rely on their expertise several times when I went in to make a quick purchase,” said Graner, who has been with the News Journal since the 1970s. “Every time someone would ask me about a piece of equipment to get, I would tell them to go to Pensacola Photo Supply - and please buy it there.”

But as the Internet advanced and online sites began selling equipment at lower prices - a luxury of not having an Internet sales tax - business began to fade. Some people would browse and get information on a camera or piece of equipment at Pensacola Photo Supply, then go home and order the item online.

“They would pick the employees brains to make a decision, then go online to make their purchase,” Graner said. “But (Pensacola Photo Supply) had so much expertise. You could trust them. You could try stuff out and they could answer almost any question you had. You can’t do that online.”

The rise of camera phones didn’t just cut into the store’s camera business. It cut into the photo printing business as well.

“All the memories are on floppy discs or computers or different drives,” McKinnon said. “Computers break. People don’t back up their photos. And where are you going to play that floppy disc now. So many pictures have been lost forever.”

McKinnon isn’t sure of the exact date when the store will close, but it will be soon. She’s already heavily discounted most items, and inventory is shrinking.

What’s next for her?

“I’ll travel a bit and figure out a way to go from here,” she said. “I’ll take a camera. I haven’t had much of a chance to use one.”

___

Information from: Pensacola (Fla.) News Journal, http://www.pensacolanewsjournal.com

Copyright © 2017 The Washington Times, LLC.

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