The Last Picture Store

Kristen Schmidt

I dropped by Cord Camera this afternoon, motivated by nostalgia and maybe a little morbid curiosity after hearing the store will close Wednesday, ending the 60-year run of business started by Cushman "Jick" Cordle.

I grew up frequenting camera stores like Helix and Calumet Photo because my father is an avid amateur photographer and something of a collector of vintage Nikon F-series kits. Photography was just one of those things we did in my family; I still have my first little Nikon SLR. I didn't own a digital camera until a couple of years ago, and I still find it deeply unsatisfying to use. All those lovely clicks and whirrs are missing.

I found a few dozen kindred spirits at Cord Camera (1132 W. 5th Ave.) this afternoon. The parking lot was packed, and cars jockeyed for the few available spaces. Inside, photographers scanned nearly-empty shelves looking for another accessory to feed a hobby that's become hard to reach out and touch in person, even though it's an inherently tactile hobby. The phone was ringing off the hook, and the woman at the cash register was busy. What irony.

What is left? Only bits and pieces. No more cameras, aside from some beginner models. A handful of lenses. Lens caps, filters, digital camera wristlets. Some truly forlorn poster and photo frames. Books with advice on how best to compose a photograph, master black-and-white photography and shoot weddings.

Customers seemed palpably aware that they were witnessing the end of an era, not just the closing of a store location. The clerk handed a bag across the counter to a customer. "That'll probably be a collector's item someday," she said.

Another customer, talking to another employee, said, "I don't know how much time I've spent in here-probably years."