From one-hour film development to digital cameras and lenses to cell phones, technology has revolutionized the art of capturing still images in recent decades.
But for Lakewood’s own Robi’s Camera Center, Print Labs and Custom Framing, qualities such as a camera’s price, release date or ability to post quickly to Facebook don’t define the quality of a picture.
It’s more than that – much more, actually – according to Operations Manager Tod Wolf. He has witnessed countless examples of people who, despite buying an expensive camera or lens, still produce a less-than-ideal picture.
“I do so much one-on-one coaching when they come in,” he says of frustrated customers seeking photography help. “To me, it’s mind-blowing how much difference a quick lesson in the basics can make."
If you’re wondering how a camera store – in this age of cell-phone “selfies,” Tweetpics and Snapchats – stays afloat, the answer is Robi’s isn’t simply a camera store.
Sure, it has an array of cameras and photography equipment, but it has a large printing center, a framing designer expert on staff and an array of products that go beyond the regular photo. Would you like the photo you snapped printed on a metal background or, even better, a glass cutting board? Robi’s can make it happen.
Basically, customers can walk into the store at 10015 Gravelly Lake Drive SW and get an education in cameras and equipment, as well as a lesson in printing and framing. The crew helps customers through the entire process until that perfect picture is hanging on their walls.
It’s the reason why Robi’s has flourished for more than three decades and can prepare for even more growth.
In the early 1980’s owner Ron Austin brought the first “One Hour” photo lab to Lakewood, and ultimately acquired the entire business in 1983.
After several moves, Robi’s opened at its fifth and current location – the former Nieman’s Clothing building.
It built a steady and loyal group of customers, but it also welcomed and educated newcomers to the photography world.
It carried camera makes and models that today’s generation might not know even existed: Pentax, Konica Minolta, Polaroid, Mamiya, etc.
Eventually, Robi’s expanded to other services, including fine-art printing and framing. It also began offering digital imaging and computer layout printing in the early 1990’s with custom scanning and restoration.
Wolf joined Robi’s in 2002 and since then has witnessed technological advances transform the image and printing industry.
Still, Wolf says, despite the changes in technology, there is still something to be said about the printed picture.
There are generations of people who aren’t going through the process of snapping and printing a picture. Instead, they are taking low-quality, less-than-professional pictures and posting them to social media. Even if they take good pictures, there’s a good chance they’ll eventually be lost because they aren’t printed and retained in some fashion.
“Digital is great but the photos themselves are what has gone down through the generations,” he says. “In the long run, it’s pictures that we want to put up on our wall.”
The beauty – and perhaps, the irony – of Robi’s success is it relies on the latest technology to enhance the art of preserving still images, whether it’s on a large print or coffee mug.
The Internet has also made Robi’s available to customers outside of Lakewood. On some days, it probably could dedicate a full-time employee to taking and maintaining online orders.
Speaking of Robi’s staff, each one is an expert and can teach newcomers the basics of camera equipment, framing, printing, etc., to help assure they get the types of images and products that beg to be shown off on a wall.
Finally, Robi’s is distinctly Lakewood and is a supporter of shopping and buying local. Passers-by might already know this if they’ve glanced at the store’s electronic sign.
“If local businesses can’t stand together and unite it’s over,” Wolf says. “It’s important to have a base in your community.”
“The community that’s here, I don’t think we’d have the type of community we have if we were in a big city,” he added.