Spokane Journal of Business

A place for ‘apictionados’

Camera Corral

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COEUR DALENEDan Dolezal describes his Coeur dAlene business, the Camera Corral, as basically a toy store for adults, himself included.

A Fuji panorama camera recently came into the shop through a trade-in and left again right awayin Dolezals hands. He shows a visitor stunning compositions of waterfalls and canyons he already has taken with his new toy, made possible thanks to the sweeping 2-inch-by-7-inch negatives the Fuji camera produces.

Im rationalizing it that well use (the Fuji) for rental, but first I have to bring it in from home, he says, smiling.

Dolezal, a self-described camera junkie, bought the Camera Corral, at 515 Sherman Ave., with partners in 1983. It had been in business in Coeur dAlene since the 1950s, he says. Five years later, he bought out his partners to become sole owner of the business.

Before coming to Coeur dAlene, Dolezal owned a one-man camera shop in his hometown of Libby, Mont., and his downtown-Coeur dAlene store has a photo-bug feel.

Used 35 mm, medium-format, and large-format cameras and lenses jam the shelves in a big glass case in the middle of the store. Need a lens for a vintage Nikon F? Theres usually some here, along with other items that Dolezal takes in on trade or sometimes buys outright. The shop also handles consignment sales.

Used equipment makes up about 20 percent of the stores total camera and lens sales, and the small shop also has just about any accessory a photographer might need, from lens filters to camera bags to darkroom chemicals. Upstairs, theres a photo lab for developing film, digitally retouching photos, and restoring old photos. Photo processing constitutes half of the shops overall business, Dolezal says, and the business also does equipment repair work.

The Camera Corral carries new Nikon, Canon, and Minolta 35-mm cameras, and Nikon and Minolta binoculars. All of the camera equipment the shop carries is high-end to keep the Camera Corral out of competition with big national retailers, Dolezal says. The most important way the shop does that, however, is with its knowledgeable staff, he says.

If Dolezal can describe himself as a camera junkie, his 11 staff members could be called heavy users.

We know what we sell, he says.

At a time when cameras can be bought everywhere, from the Internet to catalogs to Wal-Mart to Target, our strength is the physical-store presence, Dolezal says.

Thats why you probably wont see the small Coeur dAlene business as a dot-com anytime soon. Although the business has a Web site, Dolezal says he hasnt kept the site current and doesnt expect to do much business on it in the future.

In order for it to work well, I would have to hire another employee, and the profit I see coming out of a Web site would just about pay for that employees wages, he says. I have to ask myself, Do I really want to do that?

Dolezal realizes that he loses some business to competitors that use catalogs and the Internet, but says, Our core customers want to talk to someone.

In that regard, Huppins Photo Hi-Fi & Video, in downtown Spokane, is the Camera Corrals strongest competitor, he says.

Most of the North Idaho shops customers come from the Spokane-Coeur dAlene area, although the Camera Corral does get some business from tourists in the summer, Dolezal says.

The biggest group of customers for the shops used cameras is North Idaho College photography students, he says.

Only about 15 percent of the cameras the store sells are digital, although the most expensive camera in the shop, a Canon EOS D-30 that sells for $2,800, is digital.

Dolezal doesnt think digital technology will overtake film cameras among the general population in the near future.

Sure, he says, Theres a certain population that used to be into darkrooms, and theyre going to love digitalits a dry darkroom. Yet, for apictionados who love black-and-white photography, digital will not replace that because it cant replicate the look of old-fashioned black-and-white film, he says.

For the rest of us, however, Dolezal believes digital wont win out over film because it requires the customer to manage his images much more closely. You have to deal with em, instead of simply throwing your prints and negatives into a drawer.

He says the major challenges of running his business are much the same as those that confront any retailerdealing with customers and managing personnel.

The rewards are unique, howeverlike the vintage Rollei SL66 hed been seeking for the last 15 years.

Says Dolezal, It came in about two months ago.

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