British Columbia·Still Standing

From analog to digital and back again, Beau's has captured photographers' needs

From the rise of digital photography to the resurgence of film, Beau Photo keeps on rolling

Store has been adapting to the rapidly changing industry since 1982

Beau's Photo has witnessed a lot of changes over the decades with the rise of digital and the return of analog. (Jennifer Chen/CBC)

If you want a Box Brownie camera or the perfect bag for your DSLR, Beau Photo has a robust supply of both. 

The shop has seen a lot of big changes in the industry over the past three decades with the rise of digital.

"When I started here, digital really wasn't a thing," said Kathy Kinakin, who has been working at the Vancouver store for more than 20 years. 

"The image quality wasn't very good [initially]."

Kathy Kinakin (left) and Carol Polloni have both worked at the shop for more than 20 years. (Jennifer Chen)

As the quality improved, more made the switch and film became a lot less popular.

But analog is making a comeback. 

"Now, there seems to be a nice combination of the two," said Kinakin

The shop has an extensive collection of vintage and used cameras. (Jennifer Chen)

In this age of digital people don't make prints as much anymore, she said. 

Kinakin pointed to two shiny new self-serve, large-format printers near the front of the store. 

"To actually have a physical object that people can hold and show people — we really want to encourage that," she said.

Helen Ma, who popped into the shop to return a lens to the rental department, said she liked the store's service and selection. 

"I just love coming here and looking at all things photography related," she said. 

Analog cameras are making a comeback and Beau Photo has a wide selection. (Jennifer Chen)

Darkroom development

Deeper in the shop, fridges line the back wall, stacked with different kinds of films.

On a high shelf, there are chemicals, beakers and other containers for those who want to build their own darkroom.

In the glass case below, dozens of used analog SLR cameras and lenses are stacked.

Barton Hewitt, a customer who just finished a film-developing course at Langara College, stopped in to buy supplies: developing tanks, chemicals, containers and beakers.

"I want to get to the point where I can just come home and develop film in my bathroom," Hewitt said.

He's been a digital photographer for years but this is his first foray into darkroom developing.

Fridges line the back wall of Beau's, stacked with different kinds of film. (Jennifer Chen/CBC)

Meeting the challenges

Beau Photo opened in the 1980s and was aimed at helping the many professional photographers and studios operating at the time. 

The business has survived decades of challenges by adapting to what customers want, said store manager Carol Polloni. 

Being successful as a photography business is more than just selling cameras, the store manager says. It's about engaging with customers and being part of the community. (Jennifer Chen/CBC)

"It's not just selling a roll of film," she said. It's about the staff who ask the right questions to make sure the customer leaves with the right equipment, and who are "part of the photographic community."

Many of the staff have been around for decades and followed the shop through a few moves, to its third and current location on West 8th Avenue.  

"They're all passionate about photography," said Steve Pinter, who has been a customer since the 1980s.

"They live and breathe photography."


Still Standing is a series about the small businesses in the Lower Mainland that have managed to stay open despite the challenges. Listen every second Tuesday on CBC Radio The Early Edition.

If you have a suggestion for a store or business in the Lower Mainland that's been around for awhile and provides a specialized service, or has an unusual survival story, please email earlyed@cbc.ca

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.