- Associated Press - Saturday, February 4, 2017

PEORIA, Ill. (AP) - Allen Potter got a job at Rex Camera Shop in 1977 as a young man looking to work there only a year, attempting to save money to finish college.

The one year turned into nearly 40, and he never ended up finishing that degree.

“And then along came Linda,” joked his wife, Linda Potter, this past week from the other side of the shop’s checkout counter.

That was a different time in the industry, when photo processing was a more exclusive venture and cameras weren’t as ubiquitous. It’s a little different now, and Rex Camera Shop is closing at the end of January after nearly 107 years in business.

“We made it to 100 years,” Linda said. “That was really our goal. We probably could have closed it a few years ago.”

The business opened on Adams Street in 1910 by Rex Post under the name of Rex Photo Studio. It briefly shared a building with The Duchess Theatre before moving down the street to 329 SW Adams St., occupying that space for several decades. The store bounced over to another location on Adams Street until winding up in its current location 4923 N. Sheridan Road.

For most of that time, Rex was under the ownership of Linda’s father, Walter Shugart. As the story goes, a young Walter spent an exhaustive day picking corn at his family’s farm between Metamora and Washburn. After that day, Walter decided farming wasn’t for him and headed to Peoria to work for his Uncle Rex at the camera shop. He would later take over ownership of the store in the late 1930s.

Linda has spent most of her life around the shop in one way or another - wandering the store as a child or working on black and white photo enlargements in the basement in her teens. When her father had a fall near the front door of Rex in January of 2002 and died later that year at the age of 87, Linda and Allen took over the owning and operating of the store.

The main reason for Rex’s closure is that a new tenant lined up with the Potters eyeing retirement. Both Allen and Linda are in their mid-60s - too old to be walking up and down to the basement storage area all the time, Linda joked. But it’s scarcely a secret that business has been on the steady decline for years. Mom-and-pop stores have it difficult enough in general; camera stores have experienced worse in the last decade.

Once cameras were affixed to cellphones, Allen thought it represented a sea change in the industry. And then the camera quality drastically increased.

“You had no idea the camera was going to get that good,” Allen said.

Bill Dobbins, one of the owners of Peoria Camera Shop, said there’s essentially no money in selling cameras anymore. Most camera shops have to thrive in accessories and services, and even then it’s an uphill climb.

Allen recalled a conversation with a former Canon employee a few years back where he found out that there is roughly one camera shop per one million people in the U.S. currently. It’s a stark difference from Rex’s heyday in the previous century when photo studios and cameras and photo processing made camera shops a hub. In Rex’s Downtown days, Allen said, pictures of parades would be taken, quickly processed and then sold as postcards before the parade had ended.

Over the years, Allen’s favorite part of working at the store was doling out instructional tidbits on photography to curious minds (he occasionally taught photography classes at Illinois Central College). Now, most customers shop for something specific and then quickly leave.

It’s unclear if any other camera shop in downstate Illinois is older than Rex Camera Shop, but Allen and Linda believe it’s the second oldest in the state behind Central Camera in Chicago. Peoria Camera Shop, started in 1937, will take over that mantle in central Illinois. Dobbins expressed sadness in seeing Rex close and praised Allen and Linda.

“I’m envious of them a little bit,” the 56-year-old Dobbins said.

From now until Jan. 31, almost everything in the store can be purchased at a 50 percent discount, including a wide variety of antique cameras that have made up Allen’s personal collection. Anything that’s left over at the end of the month will leave the store’s shelves and probably end up on eBay, Allen said.

Over the holidays, Allen and Linda’s adult daughter, Jennifer, visited them from Texas. She took a picture with her parents one last time in the shop and posted it to Facebook. In the post, Jennifer remembered the Christmas parties thrown at Rex and celebrated the business for bringing her parents together.

“I can hardly read it without tearing up,” Linda said while dabbing her eyes.


Source: (Peoria) Journal Star, https://bit.ly/2iL7oSh


Information from: Journal Star, https://pjstar.com

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