Remember Your Local Photography Store This Holiday Season

Remember Your Local Photography Store This Holiday Season

As small business owners ourselves, why do we instantly head to the internet when we need new photography gear? You would think we would understand why it is essential to support the local businesses whenever we can, yet most of us don’t. I can already envision the responses to this article, like the internet provides better prices, more prominent selection, easy purchasing, and many more reasons. Some of these may be true, but some aren’t, and there are other reasons to shop at your local photography store.

I recently interviewed my local photography store, Milford Photo, in Milford, CT, for an article I’m writing for my American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP) newsletter. As I was conducting the interview, I realized that the local photography store is an underutilized resource, especially for the new or intermediate photographer.

First of all, let me say I’m not talking about the camera section at your local Wal-Mart or BestBuy mega-store. I’m describing the local store or stores that are owned and operated by an owner who themselves is most likely a photographer — someone who has years of experience with various brands and technology, who has seen the industry change and can explain current changes to the customer. This is especially important to the photographer who is new or is interested in a unique aspect of photography. This is where the vast selection of hardware online is not an advantage. It can be overwhelming, and it can be challenging to understand the strengths and weaknesses of various technologies or even between brands or models. Yet, the local store can take the time to discuss and answer questions the customer may have while the customer has the equipment right in front of them. The local store can have various company representatives talk directly to the customer.

No matter how fast online retailers promise they can ship that one photography item you need today, they can’t beat the speed of the local photography store. A couple of years ago, I was on my way to New York City for a photography job, when I realized I forgot my ARCA clip to mount my camera to my tripod. A quick Google search for a local photography store showed there was one just 20 miles from me. I stopped in the store, and the owner saved me with a clip. He even offered to loan me the clip for my job. I purchased it instead. Every time I use that clip, I think of that photography store and that kind owner. This is where a local store can be invaluable with last-minute needs like seamless backgrounds, camera batteries, an extra light stand, or whatever you might need.

Perhaps you don’t need to purchase something, but instead need to rent a lens or camera body — yet another area that many local stores can help. My local store has numerous lenses and bodies that can be rented, and I don’t have to wait days for them to ship from somewhere else in the country. I also use this ability when traveling for jobs. I know local stores that rent quality glass in cities that I typically shoot in and will rent from them when I need glass at that location. It saves me additional rental days and the hassle of traveling with the extra glass. I’ve even rented grip equipment from local stores when traveling.

So, as the holiday season calls us to buy, buy, buy, why not take a little time and visit your local photography store and perhaps give them some of our business? You might learn they offer more than just equipment to buy.

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18 Comments

Deleted Account's picture

Great reminder. I remember the first time my dad took me into the Shutterbug shop in Eugene, Oregon. Was this heaven? For me... yup.

I'm a three hour bus ride from Mecca. B&H Photo in NYC. But now, I'm prompted by your article to hunt down the local photography haunts in my new hometown. :)

Mark Harris's picture

My local store doesn't stock much pro equipment, but if I ask the price of something he doesn't have in stock he openly googles the biggest online store and reads out their price. He'll then order it for me, and take whatever profit he can manage. I guess he wouldn't get buy if all his business was that sort, but I like to think I'm at least topping up his income and keeping him afloat, at no additional cost to myself.

Deleted Account's picture

I'll remember to not waste my time or energy with them, thanks for the reminder.

I think there are 4 locals here, high street jobs. None are of any use, have anything I'd need or want.
The one that does, well, he's smart, he has a webshop.
I too am a small business that has had to and is developing to match the new demands, if people don't.. Well, I'm not a charity.

Dakota Brown's picture

4 different local camera shops, and everyone of them is of no use. I can see a common denominator in this equation and I'm not talking about the cameras.

Deleted Account's picture

You are right. A massive failure to adapt to the changing climate of sales.
Now, if you are trying to insinuate something else. Please do come to my town to see for yourself. Your smarmy look will vanish, I promise you. I’d love to shop local, Even pay more to do so. However, when you walk into a damp smelly shop with faded camera boxes containing discontinued gear and get the comment ‘people only come here for passport photos’ you don’t bother.
As I mentioned, one place has moved with the times, local shop plus web shop. Problem is, they took on so much, even selling phone subscriptions and white goods. You go to the shop and wait. And wait.
I too am a small business, they’re not offering me any sympathy for my wasted time, fuel. parking costs to go to their bricks and mortar establishments.

Chip off your shoulder now you have a bigger picture of the facts?

Compelling Imaging's picture

I still like to visit the old photography store I went to when first starting photography in Iowa. I now live in Oregon, but when visiting family and friends the Christian Photo in Des Moines is a nice stop as well. I believe making a lasting business relationship and getting to know the people at the shop is invaluable. They know everything photography that is going on in the local area, knowledgable in gear, and genuinely interested in helping everyone succeed in photography whatever their skill level or ambitions! I agree wholeheartedly with this article. Support your local shops people!!!

Reginald Walton's picture

It's about the bottom line for us as well. If I can save $300 or $400 dollars online, I will get it online.

Hugh Dom's picture

My local store is willing to PM online deal as long as it is from another store with a B&M locations. So, they are in theory competing at the same level.

stuartcarver's picture

I would, but there isn’t one.

chrisrdi's picture

I don't shop local because my local stores are never open when I'm off work. They open when my shifts start and close one hour before my shifts end. Then they are only open until 12 on Saturday and that's it. It's the same beef I have with banks. They are open when you are at work & never open when you aren't, when you actually have time to go. Shopping online is available when ever and where ever you are. It's just easier and cheaper to shop online.

Simon Whitehead's picture

For UK readers and international online shoppers, please support Teddington Photographic. A superb, independently owned camera shop in south west London that's been killing it for over 50 years. Amazing selection of equipment, top drawer knowledge, repairs, studio and printing.

Christopher Cooke's picture

Most independent camera stores (at least the ones I have been to, and seen decline over the years) are chock full of Pro-Master garbage. Cant find good accessories like tripods, memory cards or filters. Its all promaster junk. Most of the time when I go into a store it is for an accessory not higher priced gear but a quick need for a shoot or a replacement for something that i forgot or broke. I see so many stores who stock this cheap junk going out of business and its sad because there are lots of people with a lot of knowledge working at these stores but the owners want cheap products to sell to the ignorant.

J J's picture

Needed a flash in a pinch one time for a job - popped over to Milford camera. Fwiw if you’re in New England consider Hunt’s camera. I believe they are a 3rd generation family business and will price match the NY stores. They offer everything from small things and Godox to Leica and Red and Profoto.

Peter Guyton's picture

Thumbs up for the Hunts in Portland, Maine. I was trading in some gear, had quotes from Adorama and MPB and Hunt's matched them. They also matched the online prices on the new gear I was obtaining. Stuff they didn't have at my store, they usually can get in a couple days (same as shipping time from BH or Adorama). Instead of going to Hunts as a last resort, I tend to go their first now. I also like being able to demo stuff in the store too. Granted, a lot of stores folding or poorly stocked, but there are some good ones out there still.

Robert Teague's picture

I often use my local camera store (Tempe Camera, Tempe, AZ), if it's something they stock. I don't find much difference between it and Amazon or B&H for a lot of the big ticket items. I purchased a complete Z series (Z7 and 4 lenses) from them, but went to Amazon for an Irix 150mm.

Ed Selby's picture

What is a "local photography store"? There isn't a photography store anywhere near me (Best Buy and Walmart don't count). The last local photography store I visited was 15-25% more expensive than the big guys online, and had worse customer service, too.

Local stores couldn't stay viable in the new connected market. They paid high rent on their buildings - couldn't afford to keep stock on hand - and fell woefully behind digital technology.

tony cao's picture

in Ontario, Blacks went belly up, Japan Camera went belly up, Merkle camera went bankrupt, only leaving Aden camera (which is very small and has a no refund policy), Vistek (major camera retailer) and Henrys (biggest). there are a few mama and papa shops in small towns, but they're mostly there to sell used lens and cameras as they cant compete with the big players on discounts.

for example when i got my rp from Henry's they had a special of $350 off combo RF35 1.8 lens, which nobody else has. that was a deal that nobody could match, not even bestbuy.

Dave Curtis's picture

I am a huge fan of Milford Photo... I started shopping there this summer when I was in the market for a new Tripod. Their prices are certainly competitive with everyone else, and the convenience factor of having everything 'right there' for pickup is nice too.

I also love that they listen to their customer base about what products to carry. For example, I am a sony shooter who uses the Godox X series for my lighting kit. At my (and several other people too) suggestion, they have started carrying their entire line of speed lights and triggers.

The staff is friendly, knowledgable and fun to work with. They also do a great job of bringing in reps from manufacturers every few months to host 'Pro Days' Lastly, they work with KEH to do trade-in events too.