Beaufort County's last photo and camera shop to close

gsmith@islandpacket.comMay 10, 2013 

From left, Mike Tappeiner, Diane Sanders, Liz Auerbach and David Sanders are photographed at Island Photo and Camera on Thursday. Their long-time island camera store and photo lab will be closing at the end of the month.

JAY KARR — Jay Karr Buy Photo

  • Going out of business sale

    A going-out-of-business sale is underway at the shop at 890 William Hilton Parkway, Suite 54, on Hilton Head. Mike Tappeiner, a member of the family that runs the store, will continue to offer photo services, including large-format photo prints and photo-shoots, out of his home. Details: 843-384-0894

An era comes to an end this month as Island Photo and Camera, Beaufort County's only remaining camera and photo shop, closes its doors.

For the past 13 years, owners Dave and Diane Sanders and their family have run the shop, made prints, restored old family photos, digitized slides, transferred old film footage onto DVDs and helped shoppers choose the right camera. Previous owners ran the store for 20 years under a different name.

And for those who wanted to learn more, the store, located in The Fresh Market Shoppes, offered classes on digital photography and the best ways to organize photos.

"It's been great. Customers would bring in these really great, old family portraits, some dating back to the turn of the (19th) century and old family film footage, and we would restore them," said Dave Sanders. "People will still be able to get it done if they go online, but you're talking about sending off these old movies, these one-of-a-kind family pictures, hoping they'll restore them and you'll get them back. And some of these photos are so big, it would be very difficult to ship them off."

And tourists could be in trouble when the battery on their camera dies. The island's larger retailers would often send vacationers to the shop because of its large selection of batteries.

"I don't know where people will get those now," said Diane Sanders, adding they were known for their willingness to work one-on-one with customers to find the right battery, camera, lens or other camera equipment. "They knew when they bought from us, they could always come back and ask us questions."

A mix of reasons, including declining sales, led the couple to close.

The Sanders' experience is far from unique, as about 80 percent of the country's mom-and-pop camera shops have closed in the past decade, Brent Bowyer estimates.

"The business model that those stores had for so many years has been attacked by technology change, by retail change and by online," said the executive director of Las Vegas-based Independent Photo Imagers, a trade association for independent photo shops like Island Photo and Camera.

Big-box retailers and online companies that offer printing services and camera equipment, as well as the move from film to digital, helped bring the decline, Bowyer said.

"And consumers today, the country has been Walmart-ized, if you will, to get the absolutely lowest price," he said. "Many people don't value the service as much. Where's the market for Dave's store that provided a consumer the chance to work with an individual one-on-one?"

Bowyer adds, though, that some of the country's small shops are not only surviving, but thriving by embracing new technology, such as making reprints from iPhone images.

"But even that is probably not enough in a small market like Hilton Head," said Bowyer, who owned a home in Sea Pines during the 1990s. "There just aren't that many people who live there year-round."

The store's personal service kept professional photographer Gerald Weaver a loyal customer for the past decade for prints and photo finishing. He's relieved the Sanders' son-in-law, Mike Tappeiner, will continue to offer many photo services out of his home.

"They give a damn. They cared about what their work looked like," said Weaver. "With (the large retailers), it's as much volume as they can get done in a hurry. It looks OK, but that's about it."

Follow reporter Gina Smith at twitter.com/GinaNSmith.

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