Photographers scramble after Calumet Photographic shutters

Written By By Mike Thomas Staff Reporter Posted: 03/17/2014, 07:50am
Array Mike Smith is a professional photographer who is lamenting the recent shuttering of all the Calumet Photographic stores in the U.S. | Jon Langham~for Sun-Times Medi

When a Starbucks closes, which is admittedly rare in these parts, there’s typically another one just up the block to fill its void. Ditto for Walgreens and CVS.

But what happens when the only go-to place for a certain hobby or profession of yours simply vanishes overnight?

That’s the situation in which countless patrons of the 75-year-old Chicago-based photography chain Calumet Photographic were placed Thursday after the company declared Chapter 7 bankruptcy (the liquidation kind) and immediately shuttered all of its U.S. locations. (Calumet’s total number of American outlets is unclear, but the Chicago area had three of them: two in the city on North Cherry and North Rush and another in Oak Brook.)

Consequently, equipment under repair cannot be retrieved, rentals cannot be returned and those who depended on Calumet for their livelihoods (employees and patrons alike) must figure out another option — and fast.

“It was one of the best stores that we had in the area,” longtime professional photographer Mike Smith says. “They were competitively priced [versus] anyone online. And [now] there really aren’t any good camera stores for professionals in Chicago, which is a real shame.”

Smith is one of roughly 56,000 people nationwide who make all or a portion of their income from photography, according to a 2012 report (the most recent) from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Out of those 56,000, just more than 2,300 work in the Chicago area. There are likely more professionals than those numbers indicate. Avid amateurs and students bump the figure up considerably.

“We’re all scrambling,” Smith says. “We’re all asking each other where it is we can go now for equipment other than online.”

Before it was apparently deactivated, Calumet posted an update on its Facebook page: “Stay tuned, as we are exploring opportunities to reopen select locations to keep serving our customers.”

By that time, hundreds of those customers and many former employees had vented in posts that ranged from sad and surprised to confused and angry. Smith was among them. So was Cary resident Carrie Dodt.

A pre-press manager for a printing company in Schaumburg, Dodt is also a part-time photographer whose subjects are mostly horses. And though she considers photography her “hobby job,” losing Calumet was still a blow.

“It [was] awesome to be able to go there and work with the product and have someone show you how to do it,” says Dodt, who was introduced to Calumet by her professional photographer sister and estimates she spent around $2,000 at the Oak Brook location last year alone. “Sometimes with photography, there are so many little bits and pieces that you need, and they’d be able to point you in a direction.”


Twitter: @MikeTScribe

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