In Memory of the Legendary Central Camera Store in Chicago

by Lee Santiva May. 31, 2020 340 views
Central Camera in Downtown Chicago

Central Camera in Downtown Chicago

Today I read in the Chicago Tribune about the destruction of the 121-year-old business and I was deeply saddened.

On Saturday night in downtown Chicago, the protests related to the death of George Floyd got violent and the camera shop was looted and then set on fire. Everything was destroyed.

When I lived in Chicago in the 1980's, I had just gotten started with photography and regularly went to Central Camera for film, supplies and most of all: advice. The photos in this blog are from my visit to Central Camera on Wabash Avenue in downtown Chicago last year.

Inside Central Camera in Chicago - completely filled from floor to ceiling

Inside Central Camera in Chicago - completely filled from floor to ceiling

In 2019 while visiting Chicago from Germany, I went to the store to get some advice about the Argus camera which I had inherited. I remember talking to the owner Don Flesch and his employees for quite some time. They were all incredibly competent, friendly and gave you the feeling they had all the time in the world for you. Thus, I'm so relieved to hear that no one was injured during the destruction.

According to the newspaper article, Don hurried to his store when he got the alarm that it was burning but all he could do was watch helplessly as the looters ran off with valuable merchandise as it burned.

Central Camera had the most comprehensive photographic inventory I have ever seen and it was all packed from floor to ceiling in a very narrow and long shop. This was the type of store that had exactly what you need no matter if it was for an old analog camera or something high-tech and exotic - they had it! Their inventory ranged from antique collectible cameras to high-quality used professional equipment to rolls of infra-red film stored in a refrigerator for immediate use.

It's all gone.

Testing a zoom lens, zooming in on the inventory "up to the rafters"

Testing a zoom lens, zooming in on the inventory "up to the rafters"

In it's 121 year history, Central Camera has endured through three generations. You can support the effort to keep it going and rebuild by contributing to the gofundme campaign https://www.gofundme.com/f/central-camera-company-rebuild

Ironically, I was about to purge the indoor photos which were taken while I was trying out new lenses because they were "throw away" shots without any composition or "value" .... until now.

To be honest, now I'm afraid to purge anything .... because you truly never know!

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There are 13 comments , add yours!
Berckmans Peter 1 year, 3 months ago

Again a monument gone. Looked like a place where I could spend a lot of time. Looting in these cases are many times organized by opportunists. I have a warm hart for the real protesters, on the other hand, just do the job of the police in some areas. Just for a week. You are playing with your life everyday.

1 year, 3 months ago Edited
Lee Santiva Replied to Berckmans Peter 1 year, 3 months ago

You would have loved the store and its staff! Chicago’s photography community is somewhat diverse due in part to the photography program at the nearby Chicago Art Institute https://www.saic.edu/academics/departments/photography
Their prices for used top-of-line pro equipment were reasonable and I was tempted but didn’t buy. Looking back, I should have

1 year, 3 months ago Edited
Björn Roose 1 year, 3 months ago

Good thing the world will be a lot better after these lootings ... After all, photographing is a "white privilege" thing, right ?

1 year, 3 months ago Edited
Lee Santiva Replied to Björn Roose 1 year, 3 months ago

The local press was reporting that the looting was highly organized with vehicles like small vans lined up to transport the goods. The mayor speculated that the criminals weren’t part of the protestors, they used the protests for cover. We would have been right there in downtown Chicago this past weekend as all this was happening but due to Covid19 our trip got cancelled.

1 year, 3 months ago Edited
Björn Roose Replied to Lee Santiva 1 year, 3 months ago

I have no doubt at all about the lootings being organizer. That does however not mean that lots of the participants were not 'antifa' or otherwise organised crime and didn't have to do whatever they did. Becoming a criminal is a choice not a curse.

1 year, 3 months ago Edited
Berckmans Peter Replied to Björn Roose 1 year, 3 months ago

The white privilige is turning ,i see many photographers of all colors. In the profesional world it is still a white thing. The biggest problem is, good pro gear cost a lot of money and not everybody has the means.

1 year, 3 months ago Edited
Björn Roose Replied to Berckmans Peter 1 year, 3 months ago

I was being sarcastic, Peter. There's no such thing as 'white privilege'. There's plenty of "white" people who can't afford stuff either. Or prefer to put their money in other things.

1 year, 3 months ago Edited
Berckmans Peter Replied to Björn Roose 1 year, 3 months ago

I thought so, in our minds there is no " white privilige" but believe me it is out there. already got confronted with that many times.

1 year, 3 months ago Edited
Björn Roose Replied to Berckmans Peter 1 year, 3 months ago

Yeah, and the flying spaghettimonster is real too.

1 year, 3 months ago Edited
Berckmans Peter Replied to Björn Roose 1 year, 3 months ago

smile

1 year, 3 months ago Edited
Jay Boggess 1 year, 3 months ago

What a shame.....Sorry to hear....-1

1 year, 3 months ago Edited
Lee Santiva Replied to Jay Boggess 1 year, 3 months ago

Indeed as if online shopping and lockdowns due to Corona weren’t bad enough for business: now this! Stay safe

1 year, 3 months ago Edited
Jay Boggess Replied to Lee Santiva 1 year, 3 months ago

Yes, the trend seems to favor ordering onlne rather than actually leaving your computer to explore the world outside......

1 year, 3 months ago Edited
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