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Volume 26, Number 10 — October 2018

Local Business Shuttered By Digital Photography

Charlie Green takes a last look out the drive-up window of his One Hour Photo business after 26 years serving the community. (Photo by Andre Teague, Bristol Herald Courier)
Charlie Green takes a last look out the drive-up window of his One Hour Photo business after 26 years serving the community. (Photo by Andre Teague, Bristol Herald Courier)


*** This story was published in the Bristol Herald Courier on Jan. 3, 2009. ***

BRISTOL, Va. ? Charlie Green made one last trip to 1831 Euclid Avenue on Friday, to survey the empty spaces where his once-thriving, photo-processing business operated.

Green, the last of four founding partners who started One Hour Photo in 1982, closed the business last week ? more the victim of a changing market than a sluggish economy.

"It was a really booming business for quite awhile ? until digital imaging took hold. We did pretty good for quite a while," Green said.

The popularity of digital cameras and printers linked to home computers has made drastic inroads in the traditional film market.

"We started to see a significant decline in our business about 2004. And it kept going down every year," Green said. "I could probably have kept going if I'd invested another $150,000 to $200,000 in the business. That would have done for three or four years, but at my age, it just didn't make sense."

Now 74, Green said big box retailers had some impact on business, but the ease of digital photography eventually proved fatal.

Besides speedy film processing, Green's business offered custom printing and catered to many area professional photographers. But the backbone, Green said, was the stream of customers who dropped off one or two rolls of film containing images of family members, pets and other personal subjects.

"We had an awful lot of good customers," Green said. "We had a reputation built on service and quality. And I think we helped teach a lot of folks that all bad pictures weren't their fault. A lot of people got poor quality and thought it was something they did. I always said, if you can get me a good negative, I'll give you good quality. I think we helped people take better pictures."

At one time, One Hour Photo employed 17 people at three locations. In recent years, staffing was reduced to five full-time and one part-time employee at the Euclid Avenue location.

The business began in a former service station at the corner of Commonwealth and Euclid but has anchored the end of the Euclid retail center since 1984. It underwent a series of expansions there, as demand increased.

Green closed a Volunteer Parkway store in 1998 and the Johnson City location in 2001.

He kept the business open for the past three years, primarily because of his employees.

"I had a lot of good employees. It was really hard to tell them we were closing. It was hard on them and it was hard on me too," he said.

Former co-worker and competitor Fred Bowman said he wasn't surprised the business closed.

"With the changes in that industry, it's a different world out there," Bowman said. "Film's days are just about over."

Bowman, the vice mayor, worked with Green at the former Kelly & Green photo business and later operated a competing film processing store.

"Charlie's a good friend. He knows a lot about the business and he taught me a lot," Bowman said.

Some of Green's photo equipment went to Virginia Intermont College's photography department, but most was scrapped.

"There was just no market for it," Green said.

After 27 years at Kelly & Green and another 26 running his own business, Green said he isn't sure what he'll do now.

"This is all new to me. I still get up every day and look for something to do," he said. "I don't want to just sit down and watch TV all day."

A! ExtraTopics: Photography