We're building a brand new specialty camera store from scratch

That doesn't happen very often these days. More camera stores are closing or being bought by the big guys than are opening. What's the story?

chris.jpg (3186 bytes)In June I "retired" after running Chris' Camera Center, Inc, for 25 years. It was time to do so. It was time to get out of the way and let my senior staff members take over. So I retired to Aiken, South Carolina. I built some shelves in the house, ate too much food, spent some time trying to bludgeon golf balls into submission. All the things you expect retirees to do. And I fell in love with the town we moved to, and realized it would be absolutely perfect if it only had a camera store.

Aiken is in the Central Savannah River area, near Augusta Georgia

Aiken's a unique town. It's on the western side of the state, only about 20 miles from Augusta, Georgia. Aiken's always been a little more sophisticated and "up-scale" than other towns. In the 19th century it was both a summer colony, where folks from Charleston and Savannah would come to get away from the heat, and a winter colony, where socialites would come from the North to get away from the cold. Equestrian activities have always been a big part of the community, with horse training centers, polo matches, hunt clubs and a spring Triple Crown. In the 1950's an influx of creative technology-oriented people came here from around the world for the creation of the Savannah River Site. Here's a hint: at cocktail parties conversations often turn to more efficient ways to make nuclear weapons …

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Competition for the Photo/Imaging Market: Consumer cameras are available at Wal Mart, K-Mart, Sears and CVS. In Augusta, more than 20 miles away, both Ritz and Wolf Camera have mall locations. There's an excellent old-line camera store in downtown Augusta, but that downtown area is less desirable.

There are many 1-hour labs in the Aiken area and a good custom lab, Shutterbug Photo. Shutterbug is about the only place to buy darkroom supplies. But at this time, nobody sells better cameras or better telescopes or binoculars.

Downtown Aiken has extremely wide streets. In fact, they are divided boulevards. On Laurens Street, the "Main Street" there are four banks of pull-in parking. There's an active Aiken Downtown Development Association and a Chamber of Commerce, both of which have paid staff. Vacancies in the downtown area are few and far between.

aiken1.jpg (19331 bytes)I missed the first one I was looking at and was able to negotiate a lease at the second one. It's an 1,800 square foot storefront right on the main street, only 100 feet from the major intersection in town. Richland Avenue also happens to be U.S. Route 1, so you can be assured it's a high traffic area. (click on the picture for a bigger image)

The store was in the right location, the space was the right shape. On Monday, August 31st the landlord and I agreed on terms. There's a lot to be done.

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Week 1:

  • Inspect premises and sign lease
  • Get state business license & resale number
  • Get state payroll ID & withholding number
  • Federal Employee Identification number
  • Telephone numbers assigned, request an October 15th activation
  • Establish gas and electric account. Before the utilities can be turned on, I need inspections by the town. I schedule these for Tuesday, September 7.
  • Join Chamber of Commerce
  • Join Aiken Downtown Development Association. Get their mailing list and convert it from Mac to Windows. By Thursday, they've already told the local newspaper that there's going to be a camera store in town. My wife reads the paper and says "uh-oh, it looks like you're going to have competition." I'm happy to tell her that it's me.
  • Visit the local paper and get rate card, order a subscription. On the basis of my being in town, the next week the Aiken Standard announces that they will increase the size of the paper. (OK, maybe they had other reasons)
  • Establish a bank account as Chris Lydle dba Chris' Camera Center, South. First Citizens Bank has the perfect account: with a $500 minimum balance, checking is free and I can deposit 300 items a month without paying fees. In New Jersey, I was paying through the nose for banking services. It's the item fees - depositing customers' checks - that was a killer.
  • The Carpet Shop's Chuck Robinson comes and measures for carpet. We're going to need about 130 yards, which includes the big display windows. Carpet is relatively cheap and covers uneven floors. The old carpet has to go. At one time there was a bird store in the premises and the roof has leaked and the place has been vacant for awhile - the old carpet smells and is stained. 
  • Contacted several vendors to set up accounts.
  • Ordered catalogs from NEBS and Quill, because I'm going to need business supplies too!  

The story continues