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Lens and Shutter stores close

Venerable photography chain grew out of a student venture at UBC in 1969
Lens and Shutter moved its Vancouver store to prime real estate at the corner of Granville Street and West Broadway last year |Twitter via @GranvilleStreet

All three stores in the Vancouver photography chain Lens and Shutter have … shuttered, and the owners have not responded to attempts by Business in Vancouver to find out what happened.

The closures have left some customers in the lurch, as one person posted on Reddit in November that Lens and Shutter had shut down and the company still had the person’s film in for processing.

Another customer, @eddycur92503372 on Twitter, tweeted in mid-November that his $211 purchase from Lens and Shutter’s online store did not arrive. Lens and Shutter's website is no longer functioning.

Lens and Shutter has been around for nearly 50 years and has had many different owners, and several bouts of financial troubles through its history. It is also known to many British Columbians for its catchy radio jingle. 

Current owners Roy and Julia King purchased the company out of receivership in 2013, and reduced its footprint to three stores – in Victoria, Vancouver and Kelowna. The chain previously had eight stores.

The couple moved Lens and Shutter’s Vancouver store into prime real estate at the northwest corner of Granville Street and West Broadway earlier this year. The previous tenant in the space, Fragrant Wood Gallery, had closed and the landlord had posted a notice on the door saying that the location was closed because the gallery had not paid rent.

“I’m wondering what was the rent on the Granville Street space,” said retail consultant Craig Patterson, who owns the retail news site Retail Insider.

“That rent alone could have sunk the company. They would have needed a lot of money to cover the rent [if the rent was very high.]”

News of the closed Lens and Shutter stores also comes a couple months after Toronto-based photography chain Henry’s Cameras opened its first Metro Vancouver store, at 555 West Broadway.

Patterson said that Henry’s Cameras would have provided extra competition but that London Drugs is the No. 1 seller of small electronics, including cameras, in Western Canada.

Along with competition from other photography stores, Lens and Shutter had to deal with the trend away from people owning and using cameras and toward people using smartphones for all their photography needs.

“I use my iPhone,” Patterson said. “I don’t have a camera. That may sound unprofessional, but that’s how we do it at Retail Insider.”

Lens and Shutter’s origin was in 1969, when University of British Columbia student Art Smolensky began selling imported cameras to other students. He and his wife, Aline Smolensky, joined Vancouver’s John Dickenson and all three owned the company until 1984, Smolensky told BIV on December 17.

That is when the Smolenskys sold the business to Dickenson, he said. Dickenson then operated the business until 1987, when it was under court-ordered protection from creditors. He sold the business to Toronto’s Queen Street Camera, which had been on a buying spree of various other photography chains, and which then went into receivership by late 1989.

Steve Good, who had operated a chain of CustomColor stores, bought the company out of receivership and rebranded his CustomColor stores as Lens and Shutter, Smolensky said.

Good then operated the stores until the company was in receivership in 2013, which is when the Kings bought the venture.

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