Facing a changing industry and declining profits, one of the Bay Area's last major brick-and-mortar camera stores, Palo Alto's Keeble & Shuchat, will be closing next month, owner Terry Shuchat confirmed Thursday.
In its 51 years at 290 California Ave., Keeble & Shuchat has become a destination for new and used cameras, professional photography equipment, photography classes and workshops, printing services, gallery exhibitions and more. The store is a photographer’s paradise: 16,000 square feet of cameras and accessories, expert sales staff who have been in the business for decades and an owner who wants nothing more than to operate a "pure" camera shop.
Yet Shuchat said the business has struggled against the rising tide of online shopping and a changing photography industry, resulting in camera sales that have been dropping by about 10 percent each year, he said. That, along with a scarcity of parking and increasing development in the California Avenue area, have made the closure necessary, Shuchat said.
"The business has reached that point where small retail is just really doomed," he told the Weekly in an interview in his second-floor office at the camera store. "People want retail but they don’t really support it -- not like customers used to."
More and more people are turning to the internet to find advice about and to buy cameras, and with so few brick-and-mortar camera stores left, many consumers think of big-box retailers like Costco and Best Buy as places to purchase cameras, Shuchat said. He offered as an example a woman who recently brought in a high-end Nikon camera that she purchased at Costco that wasn’t working properly.
"They didn’t go back and talk to Costco; they came in here to find out what was wrong with the camera, and we took care of them," he said. "There's just so much of that going on."
This summer, at one of the store's biannual sales, about 700 to 800 people came in to attend photography classes, but "very few" ended up buying anything, Shuchat said.
"We're just not getting the business support," he said.
Another "major problem" for the business has been the state sales tax, which makes Keeble & Shuchat’s products about 9 percent more expensive than camera retailers in other states, Shuchat said.
Shuchat, who was born in Palo Alto, opened the store in 1965. He owns the two-story building at the corner of California Avenue and Birch Street, as well as a second space across the street that he opened around 1989. The 261 California Ave. store houses Keeble & Shuchat's rental department, which Shuchat said is the business' most profitable department, along with used cameras.
In 2016, camera stores in the Bay Area are few and far between. Shuchat mentioned Mike's Cameras, which has locations in Menlo Park, Sacramento, Mill Valley and the East Bay; and San Jose Camera & Video, a family-owned business that has been in operation since 1929.
Shuchat also lamented the changing landscape of California Avenue, which has seen many longtime retailers close in recent years, including Avenue Florist, Bargain Box and Village Stationers. He said he's watched the street evolve over the years from a "genuine downtown shopping street" to "a street of restaurants, nail salons and hair salons."
"This will not remain a business area," he added. "It's going to become an office-and-housing area."
There's no official closing date yet for the store, but it will likely be toward the end of October, Shuchat said. There will be a store-closing sale in the next few weeks.
He plans to lease both of the California Avenue spaces and has put feelers out to some camera retailers, he said, though "the fact that we couldn't make it with me owning the building means it's going to be hard for someone else to make it having to pay rent."
Shuchat called the decision to close "disappointing" and "sad," and one he thought he’d never have to make.
"I have a son-in-law in business here. I figured someday when I died here in my office that he'd take over," Shuchat said, with a laugh.