I went to high school in West Chester and, once I got a car, I discovered that I was a city mouse. I fell in love with Cincinnati around the time I fell in love with photography. Coming to Provident Camera was a pilgrimage for me. It was the first place I drove to in the city by myself, so it meant adulthood. It was a place filled with people (workers and customers alike) who had as much passion for photography as I did, so it meant I wasn't alone.
Today Provident Camera will close its doors after 80 years on Seventh Street. They're selling anything and everything in their store for 80% off. The owners told The Business Courier that the movement of customers to the suburbs, online shopping and the current recession caused them to close the doors.
Mendy Lefton shares stories with a customer and friend on the last day of business for Provident Camera on Tuesday.
When I walked to the shop today around 11 a.m., it was the busiest I've ever seen it. Dozen of people were crammed into the tight space. I squeezed through the crowd, and Cindy Lefton waved at me from behind the counter.
Cindy Lefton helps customers Tuesday morning on the last day of business for Provident Camera.
I go (or went) to Provident about once a week. Bob Smith still processed medium format film in their lab, the only place downtown that did. They sold all the chemicals to use in darkrooms, and they sold used film cameras. They sold film. When shopping there, you could always notice a slight reluctance to let go of old ways of doing things.
Lab technician Bob Smith rings out a customer Tuesday during the Going Out Of Business Sale at Provident Camera.
The digital cameras always seemed to be a little tucked away. It was like walking into an old-timey drugstore where they kept the condoms behind the counter and you had to ask for them. In Provident, I always felt like the new cameras were too modern and a little dirty. They had no walk-up display, no Best Buy kiosk.
During my freshman year of college, I was home for the weekend and needed film. My photojournalism major required us to shoot black and white film for the first semester. When I didn't know how to load my bulk roller, Jim Fausz took me into the small back room and showed me how we were going to load it, then he turned off the lights and let me try on my own. He double checked that everything was in place and flipped the lights back on. "See, that was easy," he said with a huge smile that never seemed to leave his face.
Today at Provident, it seemed that there were smiles on all the faces I connect with the store: co-owners Ben and Rick Lefton, Cindy Lefton, Mendy Lefton and even Fausz. I couldn't help but notice that the customers herding into the store looked much more upset than the Leftons and other employees.
Co-owner Rick Lefton helps a customer with a camera on Tuesday.
"Are you relieved?" I asked.
"I'm not relieved, because it's sad. It's sad to lose your job," Ben Lefton said. "But it's been a tough couple years. It's closure, so I guess there's a little relief in that."
A few years ago, Provident sold the building they owned. They're currently leasing it. Ben Lefton is unaware of any plans to fill the storefront by the owners.
Co-owner Ben Lefton talks to a few long time customers on the last day of business for Provident Camera Tuesday.
"Where will you go?" I asked.
"Don't know," Cindy Lefton said simply. "Time to move on."
Film containing my pictures of the funeral of Timothy Thomas, of the Taft Museum, of the Freedom Center opening, of Riverfront Stadium, of the skyline at sunset were all brought to life in that store.
Photos for me are a way of passing on experience and also cementing my own memories. It's an odd feeling seeing the factory that created the bricks of your experiences shut down. A small, deep, irrational part of me wonders how I'll remember anything now.
But I'll always remember Jim's smile and the community that was formed around a persistent shop with great employees.
Jim Fausz chats with a customer Tuesday, April 7, 2009 on the last day of business for Provident Camera.