Marin will soon have only one camera shop: A sign of the times

A beloved camera shop in Mill Valley will close its doors Sunday afternoon in Mill Valley after an almost half-century run.

For 50 years, this camera shop, now called Mike's Camera in Mill Valley's Strawberry Shopping Center, survived recessions, survived Amazon, survived phone cameras; even survived the COVID-19 pandemic

But it will not survive its new landlord, according to Mike's manager says, as the landlord demanded much higher rent, even at a time many small business stores, across the nation, lay unoccupied.

Camera shops and the services they offer are all very small-margin businesses given big box and internet competition. 

"Our corporate office had to let them know that we can't afford it, and they said we need to be out by the end of the month in February," said Mike's Mill Valley manager Andrew Krebs.

Perhaps the most important advantage of a dedicated camera shop is the people who work here know exactly what they're doing. 

They know how each and every camera works, and they can help you understand your purchase, even after the sale. 

"That is gonna be the loss really," said Tom Borello, who opened and managed this store 49 years ago when it was called the Film Company.

The shop was later bought by a big chain that sold it to Mike's small chain ten years ago. 

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"Three years ago, I came back to work here, because I love to talk to people about photography. That's my whole thing," said Borello.

While he will still teach photography, finding customers exactly what they need and the relationships that form, will be gone.

"It's kind of ironic that I was the one to open the door initially. Now, maybe I'll be the one to close it again," said Borello.

Mike's Camera can afford its other locations in Pleasant Hill, Dublin, Menlo Park and Sacramento and will remain open, ready to service its Marin customers. 

"Anytime you buy a camera from us, you get what they call a Mike's perfect picture package, which is basically $129 worth of free prints and rental products and that kind of thing. You can take advantage of those at any one of the other four stores absolutely," said Krebs.

Customers say phones are fine, but camera shops are where you can learn. 

"No question about it, your phone has come a long way, but it's still not there yet. It just can't compare to a really top-quality camera," said customer Aaron Jensen.

In 2015, there were 2200 camera shops in the U.S. Today, a thousand of them are gone.