Lens tissues may be the first items to go during Sandrian Camera’s going-out-of-business sale. But they won’t be used for cleaning lenses.
Tears were flowing pretty freely on Friday, as Kathy Sandrian accepted condolences from customers who came into the Morristown shop to lament the impending demise of a family venture with an 86-year history.
“We work incredibly hard, incredibly long hours. We really enjoy our customers, and our incredibly wonderful staff,” said Kathy, whose husband Peter Sandrian inherited the business after returning from Army service during the Vietnam War.
Their accountant gave them bad news, she said, struggling to get out the words.
Big losses this year convinced the couple to close both their Morristown and Clinton stores by Christmas, when shoppers might be most inclined to buy their inventory at discounted prices.
Smartphones have reduced demand for traditional cameras and printing. And camera companies have not helped small retailers, Kathy said.
“They have been collecting our customer names and email addresses for years from rebates, and now they are selling directly to them,” Kathy said. “It’s been a really, really hard business.”
Peter Sandrian’s father, an Armenian who left Turkey after his father was slain in the Armenian genocide of the early 20th century, opened a Morristown portrait studio in 1927.
The business has remained in town almost continuously ever since, evolving into a full-service store for photo supplies and services.
Kathy met her future husband when she was running a South Street gift store next to Sandrian Camera.
Other Sandrian shops came and went in Flemington, White House Station, Far Hills and Bedminster.
Morristown, which once boasted four movie houses and four book stores, also had four photo shops at one point, according to Barbara Fowler, a longtime resident and employee at Sandrian.
Now there is a 10-screen cineplex. The book stores are gone and Sandrian is the last of the photo shops.
“Peter and Kathy Sandrian and Barbara Fowler have been the mainstays,” said art photographer Pam Hasegawa, a Sandrian customer since 1974 and an exhibitor at the Morristown shop this past spring.
“Their encouragement and wisdom nurtured me into and throughout my career as a working photographer. When I hit bumps in the road, they listened, advised when asked, and were consistent in their care for me as a person as well as a photographer,” Pam said.
She described the staff as “professional, camera-smart, wise and warmly welcoming,” and the South Street shop as a “hub of mutual encouragement and collegiality for countless photographers, amateur and professional,” where lifelong friendships were forged.
Some of the photographers have passed on: Ginny Pitcher, George Goodwin, Mary Anderson, Meredith Moody Saxton. But like photos printed at Sandrian, their memories have not faded, Pam said.
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“To me they were an institution,” Pete Byron, another professional photographer, said of Sandrian Camera.
Sure, he bought equipment there, and appreciated Sandrian’s customer service and the quality of its large prints.
But sometimes “I used to walk in there just to talk,” Pete said.
“The folks who patronize Sandrian, we were a community. We would all meet at the [Dublin] Pub after hours and talk photography. I’m going to miss all that.”