Hard Times Fall On Photography Center


Business is slow on the northern edge of downtown Bethesda, where vacant shops line a quiet section of Wisconsin Avenue. The Photography Center of Bethesda will be the next casualty. After more than 15 years at 8126 Wisconsin Ave. and 35 in the Washington area, an out-of-the-way location and the advancement of digital and cell phone camera technology will force Gerard Garcia to close his doors this month. Frame sales are down to near nothing. Customers are increasingly buying digital cameras and equipment on the internet and at major department stores. And even longtime customers are now taking and editing their own photos in the comfort of their homes. Garcia's staff, which at one time included 11 employees, is down to one — his wife Penny, who will be moving with him closer to their children in New Jersey once the shop closes sometime between Sept. 15 and Sept. 30. Signs on the front of the store announce a clearance sale. Camera accessories are half off. Babette, the red-haired mannequin in front of the shop for its entire history (except for a brief hiatus when it was stolen, then returned), is on sale for $400 or the best offer. "We're very afraid because we're losing our livelihood but also it feels like the death of an art form," Penny Garcia said. "People are using their iPhones. All the frame shops and photo labs have closed. Our line of business has definitely changed." Gerard Garcia said the decline of the photo shop industry combined with the decrease in foot traffic near the shop served as a "double whammy." The two storefronts just south of his location have sat empty for at least a few years. A few businesses remain on the ground floor of the medical building on the other side, near the Texaco gas station at the intersection of Wisconsin Avenue and Battery Lane. But that section of Bethesda has floundered as newer retail developments, such as the posh Bethesda Row, have grown more prominent. "This part of Bethesda has been absolutely ignored," Gerard Garcia said. "It's strictly a destination store now." In the next few years, developers are planning a six-story office building on the site of the Texaco station and a 360-unit apartment with a ground floor Harris Teeter across Battery Lane. It's the type of development Penny Garcia said may have helped the small, yet versatile photo shop make a comeback. But with the huge sea change in the photography industry, it was no sure bet. "It's very sad," Garcia said. "But we don't have a choice."

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