IOWA CITY — Over the past several decades, University Camera owner Roger Christian has had a front-row seat to not only changes in the world of photography but also the changes in downtown Iowa City.
University Camera opened in May 1970 in a building that once housed the oldest continuously operated family-owned business in Iowa City — Fryauf’s Leather Goods, which began in the mid-1800s as a tack shop, and evolved into carrying a variety of leather goods including purses and luggage.
The store was purchased by Roger and his wife, Chris, in February 1984 and they have run the store since.
“University Camera is only the second tenant in the building,” said Christian noting that it was built sometime between 1868 and 1870 right after the Civil War. “That’s certainly unusual for any town, let alone a college town where businesses come and go frequently in the same space.”
But Christian announced on Dec. 15 that he has decided to close the camera store that has been a fixture in the Iowa City retail scene for more than 40 years.
While the decision was a tough one, Christian said the time has come to shut the doors on the small business as the demand to keep up with online retailers has become too great.
“Over the course of the years, we have worked very hard to provide a big city camera store experience in 1,000 square feet, and for the most part we’ve been successful,” he said. “I’d love to have the business continue, but we are a small retailer and we can’t force people to come in here if they can find a better, cheaper or more efficient way to buy stuff.”
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Having had an interest in photography since about age 12, Christian — a gregarious, natural salesman — will miss the many years he’s spent in the industry, from taking photos as a high school student, to working at a small camera store during and after college, and moving up from employee to assistant manager and then owner of University Camera.
“Each time I came to work here at University Camera, I moved up a notch and eventually it stuck,” he recalled.
According to Christian, University Camera originally sold only basic photo goods at the store, such as cameras and accessories and items such as film and darkroom equipment and supplies. In 1989, processing services were added with the store’s first mini-lab to offer first color film processing and printing. Then came black-and-white processing and printing, and eventually color slide processing and enlarging services, followed by digital imaging.
“As technology has progressed, University Camera followed and has installed nearly $1 million in equipment over the past 28 years, adding, upgrading and replacing equipment as new processes and capabilities have come along,” Christian said. “As these new things came along and became reasonably priced and available, we jumped on the bandwagon and, as much as we could, be all things to all people.
“University Camera is truly a one-stop imaging center. There is virtually nothing we don’t do or cannot handle in the store.”
Over the years, Christian also became involved in a number of professional organizations, including the Photo Marketing Association International, Independent Photo Imager and Photographic Research Organization.
“In the industry, personally, I will miss many hundreds of great friends and acquaintances all over the world,” he said.
University Camera will offer photo processing through Jan. 15 — at which time the machine will be decommissioned, cleaned and sold. The shop’s doors will close for good on April 15.
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“It has been an exciting time to be in the business,” Christian said. “We will miss our customers, the town and a great bunch of employees who made University Camera what it was and is today.”
AT A GLANCE
Owner and president: Roger Christian
Business: University Camera
Address: 4 S. Dubuque St., Iowa City
Phone: (319) 337-2189
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