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  1. #1

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    Thinking on Local Product Availability

    I have been shooting film and making prints for almost 40 years. In the beginning I was able to purchase everything I needed locally. (I live in a town of 75,000 in middle America..USA). At one time, even the discount stores had a healthy inventory of film products, and even some entry-level darkroom gear. My first enlarger (a Bogen) was purchased at the local K-mart. Eventually I went into business as a Photographer, after working as a photographer for others for a few years. I was able to get almost all my needs at the local "Kodak Stockhouse Dealer" in town. A small family owned camera store that carried a little bit of about everything, including bulk chemistry, hypo crystals, etc. Eventually this store went away, and the only store left was a very "consumer" oriented small chain store. They acquired the "Kodak Stockhouse Dealership" but didn't stock anything. Whereas, prior to this, the original family run store would stock what I needed, and I was free to purchase it as I used it, this newer store would only "special order" what I needed, and I had to pay shipping on top of purchase price of goods. I started doing mail-order. This was in the mid-1980's. From this time forward, I have had to mail order everything I use except for the most basic of studio supplies. (staples, toilet paper, etc.) I still use a large quantity of LF materials, for both work and personal projects, in addition to digital supplies. I guestimate I will have shot close to 300 sheets of 4x5 film by the end of this month (March consumption). Not a trivial amount, plus I process all my own (B/W, E-6, etc), so there is the chemical requirements also. Local unavailability of product could not stop my consumption because I earn a living from the use of film materials, however lack of visibility and apathy on the part of retailers has stopped many consumers from using film, that would otherwise still use it.

    If more film products were visible on shelves at stores, more people would buy them! Simple as that.

  2. #2
    DKT
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    I work in the capitol of my state, not the largest city, but not small either--there's only one store that stocks a decent line of film, paper & chemistry, and there's only one professional Q lab left in business, whereas a few years ago we had two, and about a half dozen comparable non-certified fuji/kodak labs. our state used to have the largest still photo studio in the world, and there were dozens of smaller ones and labs to support that--that are now almost all gone, or digital.

    at work--this past week and a half we shot over 200 sheets of 4x5 film and had an insane week (still going on) of printing. I made almost 250 8x10s in the past 4 days, and right now I'm running more film to make more prints. In the coming few weeks, we'll actually have to make about that many larger prints including almost a dozen murals.

    the labs we use to outsource the murals and color work, have almost all gone out of business in the past year or two. In the past week, we've been calling all over to find labs that still produce lightjets even. you would not believe the amount of labs that have gone under in the past year. we can't even get a cibachrome made locally right now, because the chemistry is all backordered.

    our lab--our E6 machine died last month, and to our horror, we found only one lab left in town that runs E6. Our Ilford machine died as well, leaving us scouring the state for parts machines. We actually have SIX 2150 processors now, two working machines mothballed, one in use, and the rest parts junkers. It took us a month almost to cobble together a working machine from scratch.

    In the past couple of months, my outlook has become rather cynical--because I don't see any support really, on the lab end. I don't see it as having more product on the shelves. That's no good if there are no E6 labs left. It's no good to me, if we replace our E6 machine and they quit making the chemistry a year from now, because all the Q labs are gone. I think we will be forced to get a new E6 processor of some sort, because there won't be any labs left to run it. It really says something, when this state that had the largest studio in the world, and had a whole industry in commercial photography that revolved around large format--when there are only a handful of E6 labs left in business, and almost all the lines are on reduced schedules.

    We're thinking of getting a betterlight back to be honest. when & if we do that, and move over out of survival more or less--do you think the people that shoot a box of film a year, or a single brick are going to pick up the slack? We used to get polaroid 55 at about $35 a box. Now it's almost more than twice that. It's a real bad time for me--sorry--but I'm not all that optimistic about the future.

    my opinions only as always/not my employers.

  3. #3

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    I am really tired right now, but will post something more in response to this tomorrow. I am sorry for your troubles "DKT". I hope you guys find your way out of this and are somehow still able to continue to pursue an analog avenue. I work in a custom black and white lab and we have been fairly busy lately. We deal mainly in the fine art side of things and from what I keep hearing there is a real interest in silver gelatin prints with the art collectors these days. Who knows though..........

  4. #4

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    Quote Originally Posted by PHOTOTONE View Post
    If more film products were visible on shelves at stores, more people would buy them! Simple as that.
    I agree completely, but the reality I see in my area in Japan is that the photo stores are now in demand of having to sell more non-film equipment and supplies than ever, so unless they expand their store space and add more shelves, they won't have as much space for the film stuff.

    And I really think all these new camera bags that are made to fit laptop computers, adaptors, etc so nicely, are just taking way too much space!

  5. #5
    DKT
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    I don't really know the answer--I've been thinking a lot about it lately, and at work we have some rough proposals we're hashing out looking at what it would cost to pursue both angles--scanning or capture back versus replacing analog equipment & cost of chemistry, materials etc. there are pros & cons for each option, and in the end it comes down to just taking a guess almost, about how it will play out.

    I just don't know--all I see is decline, sad to say, with at least E6--and that will be what pushes us over, since it used to be that b/w film was our mainstay, only now almost all our publication work and outside services revolves around 4x5 chromes or scans. The only reason why we shoot 4x5 is for the resolution and camera control. everything we used to do on small format has been done with digital since about 2000.

    As to the local product--well, we never bought that much locally, because we dealt with gov't contracts. Most of the vendors I never heard of as far as being a consumer. We got materials, and even cameras, at below wholesale prices. This past year, is the first where we actually don't have a contract. I'm not sure what that means to be honest--I think it means no vendors bid on it, which isn't really good for the longterm outlook.

    We did support the local labs though, and had some close ties with a few as well. This is how we accumulated so many 2150s, because those labs were going out of business and the machines are basically worthless now. we've actually passed up all sorts of free equipment like forox duplicators, marron carroll cameras, MP4s etc--that had nothing wrong with them, only because we had no use for them either and have our own "obsolete" stuff now to get rid of as well.

    Locally--I support the camera store that stocks film & paper. I have my own darkroom and everything I use comes from them pretty much. We have an account there for work as well, but it's limited what we buy, to mainly last minute stuff when we run out. Right now they sell a box of 100 sheets of paper for what we can get 250 sheet box for. I know why there are price differences, but that doesn't mean much to the purchasing system.

    I wish I knew the answer. February was a crappy month--spent trying to fix the ilford machine, and then coming in one day and finding that the color developer tank had cracked overnight & fried out the circuit board on the E6 and almost started a fire more or less. The machine was toast. The company was unresponsive--no more. We're stuck with almost a 1000 bucks worth of chemistry ready to go out of date and no outlet to get rid of it, becuase almost all these labs are gone, and we can't surplus it either.

    oh well--it's saturday, I want to think happy thoughts, not doom & gloom.

  6. #6
    hal9000's Avatar
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    Move to Berlin!

    I guess I am lucky to live in Berlin - we have Fotoimpex and Monochrom, two shops with very good stocks of films, papers, chemistry and darkroom equipment. Plus we still have a few of the older large photography stores with chemistry and papers as well. On top of that there are a number of labs that handle custom processing. At Fotoimpex there is often a line on Saturdays, and I sure see lots of people walking around with film cameras around here. So I am feeling optimistic and looking forward to continuing using analog products for a long time to come.

  7. #7

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    Up until lat year, I was an assistant manager in a fairly busy photo store in suburban DC. We stocked all of the Kodak papers, a good supply of Agfa VC papers, All of the Ilford MG papers (FB and RC Warm and cold), all of the films from Kodak, Ilford, and Agfa while they were around and even Bergger papers. In addition we carried all of the common Kodak developers, fixers, and indicator stop bath as well as sepia toners and Selinium. There were a smattering of Ilford chemicals, Rodinal, Berg toners, liquid light, Marshall's oils, tray cleaner, sodium sulfite, and a smattering of other things as well. In other words, a pretty good selection of analog photo consumables. Over the past 5 years, there has been a considerable drop in sales even though we had darn near everything out and ready to sell. In the last year, a lot of it was not reordered because there were much more profitable lines with higher turnovers like bags, and digital accessories. The ONLY reason that the store keeps the papers and chemicals at all is that the local community college has a pretty active photo department. It isn't as easy as "stock it and they will come", there is a genuine lack of interest in the analog photo world. Stores have to carry what sells, and what sells the quickest, and analog supplies just ain't them. Things change...


    Isaac
    See my adventures in Yemen here:
    www.isaharr.com

  8. #8
    Lopaka's Avatar
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    I try to support the local shops as much as I can - but it gets harder and harder to do so. Volume of items plays an important part in the store's ability to offer items, but understanding the economics doesn't make it any easier to deal with. Sometimes they do shoot themselves in the foot, though. One store where I used to buy most of my 120 film no longer stocks enough to meet volume purchasing (full brick of each type). They will be glad to special order it for me - but owner's policy is no discounts on special order merchandise. So mail order it is - I can't afford to buy it any other way. And so it goes.
    "I always take a camera, That way I never have to say 'Gee, look at that - I wish I had a camera'" -Joe Clark, H.B.S.S.

  9. #9

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    Ritz Camera carries Tri-X and Ilford MGIV. That's about it. If I want more I have to go downtown to Central Camera. There they have a lot of different film, in many different sizes, plus a sizable selection of chemistry. Near the front they have a nice selection of used cameras and manual focus lenses.

  10. #10
    Brac's Avatar
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    Unfortunately even when photographic stores carry films papers and chemicals the quantities they sell mean that prices are not cheap. For many years now I've bought all my materials mail order from specialised dealers at much lower prices, which also gives me a wider range to chose from. The only time I buy film in a shop is from two German supermarket chains (Aldi & Lidl) who have branches here. They offer twin packs of 36exp colour print film (either Kodak or Fuji) for £1.99 (about $3.90) - that's incredibly cheap. Also the local Poundland shop sells 36exp Ferrania film for £1 a roll. Most of the big supermarket chains still carry 35mm & APS film too, but they usually want over £5 a roll!

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