Adolph Gasser’s is closing at the end of this month. I went into the store the other morning and asked them about it, and the woman behind the counter said that, thankfully, it’s not been pushed out like a lot of other San Francisco businesses have been in recent years. The owners are retiring.
My first thought is, Goodbye film guys down in the basement. They were appropriately snooty photo guys back in my Academy of Art photo school days, but they always would hook a photog up with the right film at a reasonable price. Well, film and chemicals are expensive no matter where you go, and downtown San Francisco was and still is pricey. The alternative was calling from the school darkroom and ordering film delivered from Just Film. Their claim to fame was they’d deliver anywhere. One of my instructors (who ran a photo lab that’s been gone awhile now, they were called The New Lab) even had Just Film deliver to him at the Golden Gate Bridge once.
But Gasser’s was more than the snarky film guys in the basement. Here you could handle all of the latest photo equipment, and get whatever you needed or had to have to feel complete as a photographer. No one was really crazy about the staff, or the prices. But they had rentals, a motion picture film department upstairs (I never visited this area) and a program for young photographers that operated in the building. Just the idea of that big camera store being there on Second Street warmed my photo student’s heart. Here the people would talk the same language that dad and grandpa had. One of my favorite aspects of the Academy’s upper division black and white darkrooms was that to reach it, you went through some big heavy doors, and then down into the basement, where the smell of fixer and other photo chemicals hit your nose on the first step down. That humid wave of darkroom smelled like grandpa’s hands. I used to joke that’s what sealed the deal when I decided to take the leap and sign up for the photo program. That smell. It smelled like home.
But that’s another story.
I grew up with dad and gramps going to a lot of corner camera stores around the East Bay. Camera Corner was near the Oakland Tribune, where dad worked when I was a child. Just about every Saturday we’d go in, sometimes just to shoot the breeze with the camera store guys. They showed me how things worked and answered my questions without making me feel like a girl in a man’s photo world.
I worked, briefly, at Cameras West, in downtown Seattle in 2005-2006. My job there was all about selling digital print services, but I could also run the film processing machine, and took pride in helping out at the photo counter. That job didn’t last long, and they are not around anymore. One of the managers used to give me the expired 120 color film to shoot with my plastic Holga camera. They were pretty much digital guys, but they appreciated my film background.
But back to Gasser’s. Or, maybe just the idea of the big city camera store is what I’ll miss. Brooks Cameras (they closed their San Francisco location years ago) had been where dad and I always stopped in when on a photo walk in San Francisco, and I hadn’t really been in Gasser’s until I enrolled at the Academy.The first time I went in there, I was a bit overwhelmed. Why had dad not taken me here? Here was a place as well stocked as Glazer’s in Seattle, with two floors of camera store atmosphere. And the basement had that darkroom chemical aroma that always got to me.
Just knowing you could go in there and find what you wanted or needed, and that you keep up on all the latest photo news, products, gossip, and speak the photo speak with others was what kept me going into Gasser’s years after I graduated and had my photography degree. It’s not easy getting full-time work as an art photographer, or a street photographer, but I could always pop in and buy a roll of film (or two or three, or a carton of 120 Portra).
So this is all a long way of saying, goodbye to the camera store days of my youth. And goodbye to Gasser’s. They will be missed. I’m still running through the film sleeves I bought the last time I was in there buying gear in the basement. I can still remember that squeaky stair case you’d take going down into the film inner sanctum.
Now who will I bother asking if they have any old Fuji peel-apart film for my Polaroid Land Camera? You won’t be able to even order it online much longer.