There’s no professional camera store near where I live. That’s something that most of you would say if I conducted a poll. The traditional brick and mortar, retail camera store has gradually gone away, replaced by tremendous online offerings.

The low prices, access to every brand, and quick delivery via overnight courier make it hard for a local retail camera store to survive, let alone thrive. Yet, there are some still left. I’m curious – does anyone think they’ll be around 10 years from now?

I don’t have a firm opinion, but I do think it’s less likely than more likely. For retail camera stores to survive, they need to re-tool, re-think and re-purpose their approach.

I have spent time in a few retail camera stores that I really like. Pictureline in Salt Lake City is a prime example. The store is super-involved in the local photo community, is staffed by friendly, knowledgable people, and stocks or has access to a good amount of gear. But Pictureline is the exception. More and more local camera stores are giving up. The question is, do we care?

About 20 years ago, before social media or even the Internet, we relied on the local camera store to be the hub of our individual  photo communities. We had camera club meetings there – you’d call them “meetups” these days. We saw and played with and eventually purchased all the cool new gear at the local store.

Now, thanks to the Internet, there’s no real NEED for this. We can find out tons of information online. We can survey our peers for their views, check prices and availability and arrange overnight shipping on nearly anything we want.

I don’t know if this is good or bad. If we eventually have to rely on what we used to call mail order, the lack of competition might end up driving up prices and reducing availability. On the other hand, companies like Adorama have done a fantastic job of making their national store more like the local camera store. If you’re in New York you can have a great retail experience and even attend free classes, etc. Moreover, Adorama does a great deal amount of online education, webinars, etc.

So is there a real difference between this enhanced, multi-media, social network-powered, online camera store and the local store of yesteryear? I am not sure. For some people, say the folks in Salt Lake City, the answer may well be yes. The photo community there is amazing. It’s strong, friendly, vibrant and accessible. And in my opinion, part of the reason for that is the good folks at Pictureline. I speak all over the country to many photo groups. I’ve rarely seen any stronger photo community anywhere.

I’ve also seen the power of businesses like Adorama to bring opportunity, great prices, and access to hard to find gear to the table.

For me, it’s a coin toss. But one thing is for sure, IF the retail camera stores are going to survive, they better study operations like the one at Pictureline. I think going forward, that will be the MINIMUM standard for succeeding in a brick and mortar environment. It won’t simply suffice to have stuff for sale. The retail stores are going to have to engage the community on a higher level – or I think they may well go away.

Let me know what you think by commenting @Scottbourne on Twitter.

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