After the murder of George Floyd and the subsequent riots breaking out all over our country in May of 2020, many stores and homes in Chicago fell victim to the rage of a very angry mob. One of my most favorite stores on earth, Central Camera on Wabash Ave in the heart of The Loop was one of them; looted, torched and utterly destroyed that night.
The store is famous for being the longest lasting family business in Chicago, originally established in 1899 by the grandfather of the current owner, Don Flesch. When you walked into this noodle-shaped store with tall shelves, barely room to move around and antique and vintage used gear predating your parents everywhere you felt as though the time had stopped in the 60’s or 70’s. And it kind of did. Their purchase receipts still hand written (!), the employees using a proper punch clock with time cards and shelves upon shelves of cameras, lens caps, bins full of contraption I cannot even name, lenses, leather cases, rolls of film, equipment old and new alike.
Pride of the show being the first ever camera sold at this store in 1899, which the grandfather later bought back from the first customer and kept as an heirloom, That 120+ year old camera was for decades sitting behind the storefront window and was the only thing the current owner was able to save before the rioters torched his store, which was already struggling due to the lockdown and the pandemic.
Shortly after Don vowed to rebuild the store and though saddened, he fully understood and was sympathetic with the cause the rioters were fighting for (especially since some of his staff were also people of color). That senseless murder hit many of our emotions. Hard.
Don opened up a Go Fund Me page and set a target for $250k to rebuild. They received half of that amount in the first 24 hours (!) and currently are at $225k of their goal! I’m grateful that I was able to pitch in as well with some extra funds and was excited to see that the store (operating out of its temporary location next door) is bustling with activity! It was so packed in fact last time I visited, it was hard to move around.
Analog and film are back! And in a big way! Some years back, I’d see people going in and out of the store to either drop off or pick up their film rolls, either students, professionals, or mostly older clients. Nowadays, the store is full of young people who are getting back into film. The digital and Instagram fatigue is clearly palpable and so many people are flocking back from social media and into the art of film again. Just look at the incredible boom Fuji is experiencing with their Instax paper film. Polaroid must really regret exiting this market. When even famous household name brand camera manufacturers start making cameras for Fuji’s Instax paper, you know it’s not just a short lived fad. We have one of those Instax Mini 90 cameras ourselves and my daughter loves those credit card sized instant prints on her bulletin board.
As far as the 35mm goes, there is something about loading a roll of film, snapping away, not knowing what’s on it and having to wait for days to see. I’ve grown up on film, like most others moved to full digital since early 2000’s and now venturing back to film again, just to feel that film in my hands, develop my own film and then scan the negatives. One day when I have the room to build a proper darkroom, there will be a Beseler enlarger in my future I’m sure. There is something magical about film and paper…