ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The world may be taking more pictures than ever before, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re snapping up new cameras.
And even the photographers looking for something beyond a smartphone tend to do their shopping online or in the electronics department of a big box chain.
Those societal shifts have signaled the end for Kurt’s Camera Corral. After 65 years in business, the company will shutter its lone remaining store, in Nob Hill, on Dec. 31.
“It’s come to the point where it’s unsustainable,” company president Jim Kubie said Tuesday. “There’s not enough revenue.”
Customers have gradually stopped coming to Kurt’s to buy — and develop — film. They quit showing interest in the store’s darkroom supplies and photo album inventory. They started visiting to see the cameras up close and then use their phones to find the same product at a lower price online.
To curb costs, Kubie quit taking a paycheck from the business, referring to himself as an “unpaid volunteer at a nonprofit private corporation.” As the property owner, he also recently stopped collecting rent from the business. It still wasn’t enough. In the end, Kurt’s wasn’t built to survive the digital revolution.
“It’s a different world,” Kubie said. “I can’t argue the point. (But) I can be saddened not only that we’re going out but that there’s a whole era of photography that’s gone.”
It’s certainly different than when Kubie’s father, Kurt, got into the business. Kurt and future wife Edith each left Vienna during the Holocaust, eventually settling in Chicago. Kurt went to work for the Bass Camera Company; Edith had a job printing photos.
But Kurt always wanted his own place. A road trip West convinced him Albuquerque was the place to do it. The couple moved to the Duke City in 1950 to open Kurt’s, one of multiple camera shops in town at the time.
Jim Kubie said there was always competition — from other local stores and from companies that advertised in the back of photo magazines — but the operation was always viable.
“We had a good selection of merchandise, we had knowledgeable staff — people who could advise (customers),” he said.
Things started shifting around 2000 and have become increasingly difficult. He said he made the decision to close toward the end of the summer and just last weekend closed the second Kurt’s store, on Juan Tabo NE.
He said both properties will go on the market early next year.
Art Esquibel of Camera & Darkroom said that will leave his as the only full-service camera store in town. His shop, established in 1986, still offers new and used cameras, accessories, film processing and service. While Esquibel said the same trends that doomed Kurt’s have also contributed to the demise of hundreds of other stores around the country, he said the future still holds promise for camera shops because consumers need local, in-person help with high-end equipment.
In describing his own business he said, “I wouldn’t go to ‘great,’ but we’re not dead yet … And I have hope.”