Contacts: Albert Flesch, Owner of Central Camera Company (Chicago, IL)
The giant, vintage neon sign over 230 South Wabash Avenue in Chicago flashes “Central Camera Co...Since 1899.” Can that be right? Was there even a market for cameras before the turn of the last century? Indeed, says Albert Flesch, current owner of Central Camera and grandson of a Hungarian immigrant (also Albert) who opened one of the first photography retail operations in the United States. From the days when Kodak offered Americans the “Brownie” for a dollar in 1900, the Flesch family has been selling cameras and every conceivable accessory to a steady stream of customers.
A good bit of that century’s worth of product is actually still in the store, piled up on shelves and forming eclectic towering displays. Sitting at his desk on the second-floor mezzanine which overlooks the store, Flesch laughs at what he calls the “controlled chaos,” but he says there’s a method to the messiness. “This is a business of touch. People like to touch things...and it gives us a chance to walk them through product lines in a soft, simple way,” says Flesch, who himself carries a camera with him wherever he goes.
Flesch is an institution among Chicago merchants, working seven days a week in the same shop he’s been coming to since he was 8 years old. He currently manages 20 full-time employees, 10 part-timers and a web business that accounts for about 30% of sales. Asked about his extensive hours, Flesch shrugs. “There’s things to do, you know? I get about 3-4 hours of sleep each night. I don’t want to miss anything!”