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?
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
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
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
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
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
- 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
- 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