My understanding was that the employees voted for a union & Ralph Altman decided he wasn't going to allow a union in and just closed up shop. I was working at Helix at the time & we bought his customer list & took on a few of his (former) people.
I remember Altman Camera very well, even though I was still pretty young when it closed. It was the greatest camera store on earth--literally. It was huge and I've never seen or heard of a bigger camera store. I know there were at least three large floors filled to the brim with every piece of photographic equipment imaginable. It was well maintained and perfectly organized and the salespeople were knowledgeable and friendly. I remember hearing people talk about Central Camera and still remember the first time I walked down Wabash to Central and thought it was a joke--the size of a tiny shoebox compared to Altman's. Now I go to Central and it's a treasure. I remember the first time I went to B&H--nice, I though, but smaller than Altman. When Altman closed, I was shocked. It happened so quickly and with no notice--it just disappeared. It still bums me out.
I worked at Altman's from the fall of 1970 to late 1971. I started at the film counter and moved to darkroom equipment. I remember (vaguely) someone organizing for a union. Some time after I left I was interviewed by someone claiming to be a government investigator. I was asked if I was ever threatened by management concerning union activity.
My first clue that Altman's had closed was an ad in the New York Times claiming that 47th Street Photo had bought Altman's inventory. It was a sad day. Altman's carried every piece of equipment available up to medium format, and had it in stock all the time. You needed some obscure attachment for your enlarger: we had it.
What I remember was the Union Activity started prior to my employment by some people who were no longer with Altman. It was being pursued in the courts by the Union and the Union prevailed.
A group of us were invited out one evening by some Union officials and we told them we were not interested. They said to bad the court had given them the right to unionize the store.
Shortly after that (a week or two) Ralph Altman informed us that he was not going to let anyone tell him how to run his business and began the liquidation.
We had days when there was 300 people on the first floor waiting for a camera sales person.
There was 4 floors serviced by an elevator and an escalator. The basement was large format, first floor was camera and film and a second and third floor. I know one was devoted to darkroom but I can't remember what the other one was.
I worked Camera's and went over to Helix for awhile after the store closed.
I worked at Altman's around 1968 to 1970. I left to go back to college just before the darkroom department moved to the basement. I started at the film counter, moved to darkroom equipment and purchasing. What a place!! We could always borrow used equipment overnight or over a weekend if we needed or wanted to try out a lens or camera body. I bought way too many used cameras and a couple of new ones while I worked there.
John, You got it (maybe some of it from me). The final enforcement (they fought the initial ruling) was several years after it was initiated, a few years before I started there in '73. I thought I'd stay till the end at Helix as I did there, but no such luck. They let me go 1/11.
I remember Altman Camera very well.... It was the greatest camera store on earth--literally. It was huge and I've never seen or heard of a bigger camera store. I know there were at least three large floors filled to the brim with every piece of photographic equipment imaginable. It was well maintained and perfectly organized and the salespeople were knowledgeable and friendly.....