By NICK VLAHOS, Journal Star (Peoria)
PEORIA, Ill. (AP) — For 84 years, Peoria Camera Shop has survived changes in location and changes in the way people took and stored photographs.
But it looks like he might not survive the death of “The Camera Guy.”
Located on the Metro Center mall, Peoria Camera Shop plans to permanently close on February 25. Its photo-processing lab will likely close next week, though the store will continue to sell cameras, lenses and other gear through February, according to the Journal. Star reports.
The unexpected death of Bill Dobbins, who bought the store in 2007, prompted the closure, according to his son, Nate Dobbins. The elder Dobbins, a resident of Morton, was 61 when he died two days before Christmas.
“I feel like I’m bragging when I say this, but I feel like it’s a huge loss to the community,” Nate Dobbins said of the store’s impending closure. “It’s a huge loss for my family. But… this is the next step for my family in our grieving process.
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Metro Center president Eric Brinker told the Journal Star he was working with the Dobbins family to try to find a potential buyer.
“Bill has built such a strong business, with over 30 years of history, and we want to do everything we can to preserve his legacy and see it continue to thrive for years to come,” Brinker said in an email. -mail.
Darla Dobbins, the widow of Bill Dobbins, is the co-owner of the store. Nate Dobbins and his three sisters are also survived by Bill Dobbins, as are 13 grandchildren.
Bill Dobbins ran the Peoria Camera Shop print lab for 17 years before taking over the entire operation. Before that, he was a professional photographer.
“He was kind of known as ‘The Camera Guy,’ around Morton at least,” said Nate Dobbins. “You would always see him carrying his camera.”
The company has long been located in downtown Peoria
Peoria Camera Shop has been carrying cameras since the day it opened in 1937 along Monroe Street in downtown Peoria. In 1950, the downtown store moved to 539 Main Street and remained there for 46 years.
In 1990, Peoria Camera Shop opened its Metro Center location. The company had several owners, including founders Joe Kilton and Huber Sammis, before Bill Dobbins bought it.
From then on, Nate Dobbins was the store manager. He started working there when he was a teenager. Operating his film processor was among his initial duties.
But in 2018, young Dobbins quit his dad’s job and became a stay-at-home dad to three, including twin girls who are now 3. Dobbins’ wife, Leah, is a doctor. In 2020 they moved to Knoxville, Tennessee.
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The departure of Nate Dobbins has changed the calculus regarding the future of Peoria Camera Shop.
“The initial line of succession five years ago was me,” Dobbins said from his new home. “But when I decided to move on, (my parents) started planning my retirement. The company was for sale, but not publicly for sale.
“If they found someone to buy it, great. If they didn’t, that was going to be the bottom line, closing the doors.
The death of Bill Dobbins accelerated the process.
“I was driving eight hours from here to Morton,” Nate Dobbins said of the aftermath, “and the whole time I was thinking, ‘Holy shit, what am I going to do with Peoria Camera Shop? ? I didn’t expect this to happen for five years.
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Customers came from all over central Illinois
A newspaper advertisement announced the opening of Peoria Camera Shop in 1950 at its new location, 539 Main St.
Over time, the store has evolved, especially with the decline of film photography, the rise of digital photography, and improved cell phone technology. Business has dropped off somewhat.
Dobbins said things had bounced back over the past decade, buoyed by customers who wanted cellphone photo prints. Photo prints of Christmas cards were particularly popular. Such items could be ordered online, a key feature during the coronavirus pandemic.
According to Dobbins, the longevity and completeness of the products has enabled Peoria Camera Shop to acquire a large customer base geographically. Buyers came from Bloomington, Champaign, Quincy and Springfield, among others.
Customers were also loyal, as the announcement of the store’s closure this week underscored.
“It was not an easy decision to make. I get bombarded with emails from sad people,” Dobbins said. “We understand that Peoria Camera Shop is a foundational business for Peoria.”
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It was also a fundamental undertaking for the Dobbins family. Dobbins said the family history there is what he will miss the most – as well as the presence of his father.
“Those of us who worked for him and my mom were the legs, arms, fingers and toes, but Dad is the one who literally poured his heart and soul into this place,” Dobbins said. “He loved every minute.”
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