When I first started college, I said to my parents I wanted to move out of Chicago the moment I graduated. They told me I shouldn’t speak too soon.
Four years later, I can say they were right — I did speak too soon, way too soon.
Not to say that I wouldn’t still move, I’m always open to it. But the one thing no other city will have? Central Camera Company.
I’ve mentioned my love of film photography and Central in past Ramblings, but I decided it’s time I dedicate one to my favorite place in Chicago.
One summer at Lollapalooza — I shed a tear for the current state of music festivals — I spent a lot of time with a good friend, a fellow film shooter, who told me about Central. There was no going back after that.
That summer, just two years ago now but seemingly forever ago, I started frequenting the store that has lived in the same brick and mortar (230 S. Wabash Ave.) since 1929. My knowledge of film, cameras and the general art skyrocketed and I soon became a regular.
When I heard the news of the store being burnt down May 30 during the looting that followed the George Floyd protests, my heart shattered. The fire made the news, and the store’s third-generation owner, Don Flesch, gave a hopeful, inspiring interview to CBS Chicago.
“We’re going to rebuild it just as good or better, so I’m not depressed at all,” Flesch said.
And that good news came to fruition. The company posted on its socials at the end of July they’re planning to reopen at a temporary location (right next door) by Sept. 1. The grand reopening of their rebuilt store is planned for Jan. 30, 2021.
Until then, a few employees will table in front of the store selling various film, development kits and offering development services. And you can bet Don, the owner, has a little box with York Peppermint Patties ready to hand out to customers — his trademark treat.
Long before I was introduced to the wondrous, family-owned camera store, I took a film photography class that ultimately ignited my passion for the art. After I kindly confiscated my now-go-to SLR from my sister, the passion was not to be quenched.
No birthday or Christmas list is complete without the wish of a new film camera. The number of times I’ve debated buying them in bulk off eBay or Goodwill’s online store, well, it’s unnecessary to mention.
The first camera I actually bought was sold to me by Don one afternoon that first summer. I had no funds allocated to film at the time, but I wanted something inexpensive that I could carry around at all times. What I left the store with was an $8 Vivitar point-and-shoot — its clear plastic body showing off its interior mechanism.
That little camera, for which Don even provided me a battery, went on to become my sidekick. There wasn’t a party I went to where I didn’t have it on me, and some of my favorite photos of friends were shot on it.
It’s also the camera I ended up giving to numerous friends — why spend money on disposable cameras when you can buy one that looks cooler and allows you to add whatever film your heart desires? I’ve gifted that camera more times than I can remember, and I hope it’s one that has brought joy to whoever’s hands it has landed in.
Chunks of each paycheck have gone to film photography (and therefore Central) for years now. I can’t even be stopped when I’m out of town.
There are a lot of things I can write about Central and my experiences there, but some stand out more than others. Once, my name had been placed on a waiting list for a roll of Cinestill 800T (great for night and neon-light photography) for a few months since it had been out of stock for some time. I got the call that it was ready one day over winter break when I was in Romania visiting my grandfather.
Like I said, I can’t be stopped. I might be overseas but I still manage to spend money there. My boyfriend kindly obliged to go to the store to pick up my long-awaited film. There, I later find out, he met with one of my pals who sold him the film, packed it in a little brown bag, and added a Cinestill sticker as a surprise for me.
I have yet to find a home for that prized sticker, but that memory is one that speaks volumes to my love of this haven.
I joked in a past Rambling that my trusted vehicle basically only takes me to and from school and Central Camera. And I can’t wait to continue that tradition (though soon minus the school) for years to come.