Columbia Photo will close its shutters after 42 years

Thursday, February 18, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CST
MU junior Tommy Nagel watches as Columbia Photo camera sales manager Dennis Stegall, center, and service manager Bob Orman figure out the flash problem with his camera on Wednesday. After 42 years of service Columbia Photo will be closing its doors in April.

COLUMBIA — Patrick Marks still remembers the day he set foot for the first time in Columbia Photo. He was a student in a photojournalism class at MU and went to check the place out, when he noticed a "Help Wanted" sign for a computer tech support person.

Although he was dressed like a typical college student — in shorts and a T-shirt — he asked about the job and got an interview on the spot.


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“Basically, I walked out with film and a job,” said Marks, who has worked there 16 years and is now vice president and general manager.

The photo shop will close its doors this spring after 42 years of selling cameras, film and electronic equipment.

Marks said sales began to drop off in 2001.

“People don’t close because they’re making money,” he said. “I’ve been sitting on the decision for a while now.”

Service manager Bob Orman's eyes filled with tears as he talked about the closing. He's been with the business for 25 years.

“I’ll miss the customers ... and my fellow employees," he said, adding that the business's failure is a sign of the economic times. "It's competition, it's economic; a lot of small businesses are hurting right now. It kind of makes me wonder where the small-business stimulus is."

Orman said the business began primarily as a photo store and expanded to sell electronics, then computers. When other businesses jumped on the computer bandwagon, computer sales died off, and electronic sales shrunk with the growth of companies such as Circuit City. In its waning days, Columbia Photo is now, once again, mainly a photo supplier.

"I've grown and shrunk with the business over the years," he said of the evolution. "It's that (experience) that creates an emotional attachment."

For several years, starting in 1979, the shop sponsored a photo contest for local photographers. A Missourian article published Feb. 27, 1981, said the contest was not to "find the best" but was "meant to be a learning experience."

Tom Atkins started the business in February 1968. The establishment moved to 310 N. Tenth St. in 1979, where it remained until it moved to its current location at 111 S. Ninth St. in April 2009.

Atkins did not return a phone call Wednesday.

Former vice president and general manager Chips Godfrey worked at Columbia Photo from 1974 to 1995. He said the closing was unfortunate for Columbia.

"Whenever you lose an independent retailer, it's a loss to Columbia because they offer something that you can't get elsewhere," he said.

Marks hasn’t thought about what he’ll do after the closing and said he’ll miss everything about his job.

“It’s just been my lifestyle for so long,” he said. “I spend more time here … than anywhere else.”

Orman plans to start a side business preserving audio recordings, a service he’s performed at Columbia Photo for the past three to four years. He'll also fix phonographs.

Long-time customer Jack Smith, a retired Leo Burnett Advertising employee who does advertising work for MU, was surprised and disappointed to hear of the business closing.

"I think of Pat (Marks) in particular, and everyone there ... not just as service people, but as friends," he said. "If the television set broke down hours before a Missouri bowl game, Pat would be out here to fix it."

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