When I was a young lad in Sheffield, England (circa the Jurassic period when dinosaurs ruled the earth), there was a small group of shops at the bottom of our road. These included a chemist (pharmacist), a newsagent, a post office, a green grocer, a butcher, an ironmonger (where they presumably “monged” iron), a fishmonger (where I assume they “monged” fish), and so on.
Everything seemed to have so much more “presence” in those days. Take the ironmonger's, for example, which was owned by two little old ladies. This was a dimly-lit shop with an antique fan slowly turning high above and dust motes spiraling around in the air. The ceilings were lofty and the walls were lined with ancient wooden shelves, every nook, corner, and crevice of which were jam-packed with small cardboard boxes seemingly containing every nut, bolt, nail, screw, grommet, gismo, widget, thingamabob, and doohickey that had ever been made. There was one of those library-esque rolling wooden ladders attached to the floor and shelves that gave access to the items relegated to the higher ledges. If a rarely-used item were requested, one of the old ladies would spryly clamber to the top and shout directions while the other would push the ladder back and forth. It was like watching a circus act. The whole place reeked with… well, let's call it character. I spent countless hours down there rooting around in antique boxes unearthing curiosities to be used in my various hobby projects.
Some things I remember about all of these establishments were that the people who worked there seemed to have been there since time began, each of them was an expert in their own field, they were courteous to their customers, and their service was impeccable.
To a large extent, I fear those days have long gone. I don’t know about you, but I'm growing increasingly used to visiting shops whose employees — often young folks who have to be pried away from texting their friends on their smartphones — have little knowledge of their product coupled with a total lack of interest in providing any level of service. Sometimes I feel like I should be apologizing to them for wantonly wasting their valuable time.
The reason I'm waffling on about this here is that I just experienced a flashback to an age where service and expertise were the norm.
As you may recall, I recently became the proud owner of a rather tasty camera (see A (Good) Picture is Worth 1,000 Words ). Sad to relate, I had a small problem with one of my lenses. Unfortunately, my coach, Eric Mittman (EMPhoto.org), wasn't available, so I had a quick Google for “Photography Shops” here in town.
I was presented with two main listings — one for a franchise, Wolf Camera, and the other for an independent establishment called Southerland’s Photo. Wolf Camera was relatively close, but it had dreadful reviews regarding the expertise of its employees and the service (or lack thereof) they offered. By comparison, Southerland's Photo was way across town, but it boasted glowing reviews.
To be honest, I did attempt to go to Wolf Camera first on the basis that it was closer, but when I got there I found they'd closed down (hmm, I wonder if there's a lesson to be learned here?). Thus it was that I eventually found myself at Southerland's Photo.
OMG! This is the way I remember shops from my youth. This emporium is jam-packed with equipment (antique and modern, new and used) and the owners — Malcolm and Betsy Tarkington — have been at the helm for close to 50 years. In addition to selling Nikon, Canon, and Pentax cameras, lenses, and other pieces of equipment, they also offer processing, scanning, and printing services.
It took only a few seconds for Malcolm and Betsy to resolve my lens conundrum, after which I spent a happy time chatting to Betsy about things like macro lenses and filters and stuff. Betsy said that they are acquainted with Eric (my teacher) and, on returning to my office, my graphic artist chum in the next room, Bruce Till, said that he was very familiar with Southerland's Photo. He also made note of the fact that Malcolm and Betsy's daughter, Jennifer Tarkington, is an accomplished photographer in her own right.
I feel like I've stumbled on an inner-circle of experts, sort of like a small village where everyone knows each other. Unfortunately, I'm reasonably sure who is destined to be cast in the role of the village idiot, but we all have our parts to play on the world stage. How about you? Do you, like me, bemoan the passing of the privately-owned shops of yesteryear with their accompanying service and expertise? And are you aware of any establishments that still offer these attributes in your home town?