April 2, 2005 in Business

Retailers change focus

By The Spokesman-Review
Brian Plonka photo

Brent Gable of Spokane, left, chooses his first digital camera from Huppin’s salesman Matt Winghart. “I’m buying this one because of the size.” says Gable.
(Full-size photo)

Saying its focus has become TVs and digital devices, a major Spokane electronics retailer has decided to quit selling film cameras.

Huppin’s Hi-Fi, Photo and Video, based in downtown Spokane, will sell off all film cameras and darkroom equipment, company president Murray Huppin said.

The decision allows the company to give more store space to the hot sellers right now, high-definition TVs and digital cameras, Huppin said.

Like many retailers who stock electronic gear, Huppin’s has seen a clear shift in consumer preference toward digital cameras and online storage of digital photos.

“In recent years we’re seeing that digital cameras are 98 percent of all cameras we sell,” said Huppin.

In terms of total business, film cameras “don’t really add up to a blip,” he said.

The Camera Corral in Coeur d’Alene won’t follow suit, said Chic Burge, a sales associate there.

The retail outlet finds traditional 35mm film cameras make up one-fourth of all camera sales, Burge said.

Told that Huppin’s was leaving the film-camera business, Burge said, “I see an advertising campaign for us, telling more people that we still sell them.” Burge said he sees plenty of customers who’ve tried digital cameras but come back to film.

“They find they can’t figure out how to run the digital cameras. They’re way harder than they need to be,” Burge said.

Murray Huppin said his family-owned store has sold film cameras since the early 1950s.

“It’s not like we’re abandoning cameras entirely,” he added. “We’re just making digital camera our focus.”

The Huppin’s store and its online division, www.onecall.com, will provide customers more choices for digital camera accessories such as memory cards, color printers and adapters to connect cameras to computers, he said.

Huppin’s will sell the fewer than 60 film cameras it has left. Also being sold are assorted darkroom chemicals and pans, plus some telescopes and binoculars that Huppin said take up valuable shelf space. The store will no longer sell film, either, he said.

“This comes down to maximizing our available space,” Huppin added.

Mark Nealand, owner of A-1 Camera Repair in Spokane Valley, provides film-camera repair for customers taking cameras to Huppin’s.

“We shouldn’t lose business,” Nealand said, noting he was told by Huppin’s employees the store will continue sending film-camera work to him.

Glen Lindsey, owner of Alpine Camera and Repair in Spokane Valley, said he has mixed feelings about the decline of traditional film photography.

Lindsey said he understands Huppin’s decision and can’t fault it. He’s seen the same trend among his customers, when they come looking to see what cameras he has restored and sells in his display area.

“It used to be I couldn’t keep a film camera in my store for more than a week. Now they sit there for a month or two months before someone buys it,” Lindsey said.

At the same time, the trend has Lindsey concerned about the onslaught of the new digital technology.

“This is part of the erosion of our tradition of passing down hard copies of family photos,” he said. With digital cameras, the images reside only in electronic form, in memory cards or on hard drives or in compact disk.

Families used to keep and pass on old negatives, slides and family portraits, remaining a physical collection of key moments, he added.

“I don’t know how digital photography will affect that,” Lindsey said. “I’ve already lost digital images of my family members. My brother-in-law lost 75 images on his memory card. They got wiped away and are gone.”

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