Ever really get to know those guys and gals behind the counter at photo stores? I think every photographer out there has either been saved by, exasperated by, befuddled by, informed by, counseled by….those folks behind the counter. Part priest (or minister, or rabbi), part bartender, part technician, those fellas (mostly) wait for us behind glass bins that contain vast troves of pornographically delightful gadgets, all gleaming brighter than the right side of the histogram. We swoon as we approach the altar of gear.
We are impulse buyers, often times, near keening in our desire to possess the latest newfangled widget which will catapult our photography to the next level. Just one more light modifier, the one that bends photons into the darkest, truest corners of our subject’s souls, or one more ultra-smooth, chromium coated, bi-pixelated, extra dispersionary piece of glass that is faster than light itself–that’s all that’s needed. Once in possession of these treasures, the road will be smooth, and the assignments will be plentiful. The next phone call indeed will not be from someone we owe money to, but rather it will be from the National Geographic Society, sending us packing to places of unspeakable wonder. We of course are snapped out of this delightfully implausible reverie by the voice behind the counter reminding us that there’s a special on if we buy the camera with the lens.
Given our tendency towards rapture when we enter a camera store, we could easily be led astray. That’s why, when you find good people behind those gleaming counters (or on the other end of the phone), you stick with ’em.
My first major camera purchase was in 1974 at Willoughby’s on 5th Avenue, and it was enabled by enduring physical harm and mayhem. (Hmmm. Has anything changed?) During my first job in journalism, as a newspaper boy, I was bitten by a dog. Badly. Put me in a wheelchair for 5 weeks, and it took two operations to put my left calf back together. Turns out the family was beating the dog with the newspaper, so I’m sure to the pooch, this was a very logical move. It resulted in a payout of ten grand, available to me at the wise age of 21. Did I invest it? No, of course not. I turned it into a car and a couple cameras. Made the deposit, and went to Willoughby’s. Back then, the store would actually make a phone call to the bank to check your account. (How quaint!) The check hadn’t cleared. The camera salesman turned to me with a knowing look, and said, “You’re a little short in the bank, kid.” (How was I to know he was also a prophet, and this would remain a perpetual state of affairs?)
If you told me back then I would have a relationship with one of these shops, I would have looked at you like you were off your nut. But, turns out, after purchasing many photographic talismans from many, many places, I’ve come to be part of the family at Adorama. The folks who run the place decided to partner with me to support the Faces of Ground Zero giant Polaroid collection a number of years ago. (I had gone it alone preserving and storing 24,000 pounds of photography in museum quality storage for a number years, and it damn near broke me. Then, Harry Drummer, he who makes all things happen at Adorama, shook my hand and said, “We’ll help you.”) I’ve done all my business with the store ever since.
And hence have gotten to know the guys in the Adorama Pro shop pretty well. They are equal parts characters, soothsayers, geniuses and camera-wise counselors. After a few years in the business, it’s pretty easy to get dismissive about the “camera salesman,” right? “I know what I want, here’s my money, and how long is this going to take?” can be the dialogue in your head when you’re at the counter purchasing, and that’s understandable. But, over time, I’ve come to regard these guys not only as friends, but as resources. Because, in short, they know more than me.
Let’s start with Daniel Norton who describes himself as “a Springsteen tune sung by Tom Waits. And he knows stuff about light bulbs.” A fine photog in his own right, he knows more about lighting than, well, just about anybody I’ve encountered. His expertise crosses a vast array of systems, and he can tell you what works with what and why more easily than a kindergarten teacher reciting Dr. Seuss. Which, given his clientele, he might often feel like. He’s able to quickly suss out the essence of what a photog really needs to get a job done, and it comes from the depth of his experience shooting on location in places like NY and Miami. He’s also always got a perpetual, slightly bemused, knowing twinkle in his eyes as yet another photog recites a fevered litany of what they will try to accomplish with this newly purchased magic box. Think of a cop at the driver’s window while someone nervously babbles what they perceive to be a perfectly defensible rationale for doing 75 in a school zone. Daniel knows his stuff, and I have personally witnessed him saving a photographer from himself. Which is actually very cool, considering there are some guys behind the counter out there that are the camera store equivalents of Hannibal Lecter…”Closer, Clarice, closer…..”
Then there’s Efraim Nussbaum. I don’t know too many geniuses, but he is well and truly one of a kind. He speaks a half dozen languages, and knows, by heart, virtually every SKU in the Adorama system, which, as you might guess, has more than just a few products. He has, literally, a photographic memory. He scans a page of figures, and then, simply, knows them. He is a wonder to watch, ball capped, scanning his computer, drawing on more than 20 years of camera store experience, spewing SKUs and manufacturer’s descriptions like he’s reciting poetry. Seriously. He can make a recitation of the tech specs on a lens sound like Yeats. I think this occurs because he does truly love his job, and this world of information bubbles out of a very decent, helpful place in his soul. I asked him once about an obscure connecting cord. He not only knew the cord, and the SKU, but he knew it was impossible to get and suggested another historical predecessor to that cord that works just as well if you hooked it to XYZ coupler, and there are two of those in the system! He did this without the aid of his computer.
And then (drum roll, please) there’s retail store manager Isaiah Wong. He went to Cardinal Spellman HS in the Bronx, and I went to Iona, and they used to regularly kick our ass on the basketball court, but I don’t hold this against him. A self starter nonpareil, he’s the young father of three and brings the obvious patience of parenthood to maintaining order and equanimity on the floor of a hectic NY camera shop, which at least occasionally rivals the tumult of Times Square on New Year’s Eve. To me, he is part of the vibrant soul of New York. Chinese and Puerto Rican, he put himself through Baruch College, and then climbed the managerial ranks through the clothing, wireless communications, consumer electronics and now photographic industries. Looking at his bio, it makes sense that he once worked at Prada and The Gap, as he still manages to pull off stylish, despite wearing the standard issue Adorama duds.
And then, of course, there’s the big guy, Jeff Snyder. I shot this picture of him down in North Carolina, and it’s pretty good, so he uses it as his Twitter pic. I haven’t had the heart to tell him that I only shot it because I was bored with the lighthouse I was looking at that morning. Now he knows:-)
Seriously, Jeff and I have been buds a long time, and my business followed him from Penn Camera to Adorama. Remember I said when you find good guys, you stick with them? He’s a fine shooter who’s out there in the trenches with us, so his camera advice is sound and grounded in reality. And his jokes aren’t bad, either.
Good jokes, good guys, and good camera advice. What’s not to like? More tk….
Joseph Nienstedt says
Your words are like photo-nerd poetry, and I love it!
Darren Elias says
Right after the Flashbus tour (Philly (I’m on the DVD actually, not one of the lucky souls who went on stage, but the schlub in the brown tee walking back to his seat when you’re starting your segment, but I digress)), I sold all of my Minolta and Sony gear to Adorama, and bought all new Nikon gear from Jeff, and have been buying from him ever since. He’s been very helpful and a pleasure to work with! Good guy. Good store. Good stuff!
Ed Fasano says
Joe, This was a nice read (as always). This one in particular though was such a nice thing to do.
Cynthia delconte says
In 1973 i was hired ar willoughbees to sell in darkroom dept. they sold me my first nikon when my practca was stolen
I actually remember you!
I agree completely
The pro dept is far better than dealing with that other superstore
Efraim is great but you left out the female there( i cant remember names)
She was a nikon person and is such a huge help always
Thanks for this
Kurt Mathiasen says
Thanks for putting faces on the guys!! When you live in Dubai (yes I was at you and David’s Flash Bus Tour – and hope to see you both back soon) I have to order over the net and have done so many times with Adorama. And they have always been super. Even when things go wrong ( not their fault ) and autofocus on a Nikon 200-400mm VRII don’t work – five day later I had a replacement down here in the middeleast – that is service. So I will continue to order at Adorama ( I hope soon to get my D4 on order).
Steve Kalman says
I have about 20 feeds in my RSS reader, but when I see one from you, I always read it first.
I love the way you bring the heart, the passion and the responsibility of photography to us in simple yet heartfelt words.
I’ve enjoyed your books in the same manner and that’s in addition to all the useful technical knowledge there.
Thanks for all you do,
You are in the heads of all photographers!
Adorama is simply the best photo shop I have ever done business with. They earn my repeat business with every purchase I make. Love ’em! Thanks for this great post.
Nice inside look Joe, thanks for the write up. I’ve been buying from Adorama’s website for years, have never had the chance to get to the physical store unfortunately.
….from one of those guys behind the glass… thanks for your support… it is in knowing we can make a difference in a photographer’s day that gets you by on some days…
Ivan Boden says
Well said Joe. Great to know there are caring, knowledgeable people that are there to help us, rather then just push boxes.
Susan Peden says
I remember Bob at Bob’s Camera, where I bought my first real camera.
When Bob’s closed, one of the guys there opened Mike’s Photo where I bought the F3 and later the Hasselblad.
I live far away now from the place where those photo stores were, but I know they are closed now and let’s put in a plug for Glen’s Fair Price Store in Harrisonburg VA. Sells Nikons along with any and everything you can imagine. We need these local stores, where they will spend a half an hour digging around to find a two dollar thing you need today, not next week.
Hope to find such a shop here in Germany. Normally I buy all my equip on different online stores like the big one beginning with A.
I tried a camera shop a few month ago, that a friend suggested to me. He told me “Man that shop is so cool the guy at the counter is a Guru”. I thought I give it a try and ask for a D300s because my D90 is near failing after a couple thousand shots :). And as you sad sometimes we just go into a shop and buy some new equip out of an impulse.
The guy behind the counter looked at me with a glance like “You really want me to search something in the computer?”
After a few minutes he told me that he couldn’t get me a D300s anywhere and try to get me out of the store as fast as possible. Didn’t know why because there was no other customer. I wonder why?!?
So my experience with a shop wasn’t that got and I will buy my next equip online, I think.
As usual, your prose takes a ho-hum topic and makes magic out of it (or is that Yeats?). Besides the store being like a candy jar, when I’m on the road and away from NYC, Jeff is the “guy.”
Thanks for highlighting the work and importance of the camera shop staff. I used to work in a shop in the UK and most of the time we were very much taken for granted. We had really good relationships with quite a few local pros, but we also were treated with contempt and with a lack of respect by others. In the UK camera shops are in decline and I applaud you for recognising there importance to our industry in this internet world.
And after the story how Adorama stepped up to help you, all my business went their way too.
Mario Plouffe says
The first time that i buy from Adorama, it was because i drove with my car on my camera bag and i scrap a lens… I want to replace that lens but because of the Tsunami in Japan the lens is back order in Montreal, Canada. I find on the net that Adorama have it in stock. I ordered the lens and, in three days the lens was at my door… WOW. Each time hat i call, the people ae so nice, so patient because i tried to speak english and ask them to speak slowly. It was the best experience that i have with those people. Hope they open a store here.
Neil Enns says
Funny, I was at Adorama about 20 minutes after reading this post this morning. All the employees were talking about it, and Efraim was getting quite a bit of good-natured teasing. The person helping my friend out at a computer basically said “well, I could look it up, but Efraim knows the SKU by heart!” as Efraim was walking by 🙂
The Kentucky photo police after a long inquiry found a one Joe McNally is sole owner of Adorama, as always pimping in disguise as a Photographer for Life, National Geographic, etc.
His exact twin brother is the real photographer, while Joe sits back and collects bonus points he gets from a credit card company who buys through Adorama. The SEC is searching Joe’s records back to 1881 when Joe was born. We are even trying to find Joe’s Plastic Surgeon on how has not aged.
For the latest in the (PP) Photography Police, Stay tuned.
Ken in KY
for not so truthful reporting
Daniel Solorio says
in 2010 when I went to New York for the first time for the first lighting advance workshop with Joe, we did receive a goodies bag, with Joe’s Photo Poster, a memory card pouch, and among other things a $25usd Adorama Gift Card. Next day after I obviously went running to see live the store I have bought stuff on the internets many times. Daniel Norton assisted me, no way to forget such a particular character, dry, smart mouthed, and probably thinking ( Oh lord this kids, that want to know about everything) but totally patient, asking for something I see in my mind logically to exist, looking in to the sort of The Matrix Adorama System and producing from a little hole in the wall the stuff I was exactly thing about. Great guys.
Thanks for sharing your past experience with a camera store from the past. You’re right about finding and sticking with a good reputable camera store which are staffed with knowledgeable and honest personnel. Some camera stores lack business ethics and don’t care about retaining loyal customers. It’s very informative to read about the staff at Adorama and what they have done for you.
I have had many good experiences with Adorama, Always first class.
Dave Prelosky says
Another fine read.
When I did my time behind the counter, we told the customers “We’re not here to make money, we’re here to make friends.” The money took care of itself.
But, as these things go, management wanted to sell photofinishing and warranties more than equipment and now they’re a shell of the outfit I worked for…
Neta Tureson says
Great post, enjoyed the read
Jim San Diego says
I buy all of my gear from Adorama! Top notch service and good prices. They’ve always done it right. And they have a huge presence on Amazon.com when looking at photo gear.
Joe, loved the latest blog.
There is another side to this wonderful story as well. I have never bought camera gear off the web…even though it might be a bit cheaper than “my camera store”. I head to “my store” when I need advice..or how to make something I already own do something I didn’t know it could do! Sometimes I just drop by to talk to the “guys”.
We as shooters..Pros and everything after that NEED the local stores. (I’m in the “everything after” category)
So the moral is buy local. If these local stores disappear..we’ll all be left with pages of specs that mean nothing without the guru’s to explain it all.
Happy shooting everyone.
Daniel Norton says
Isaiah is dreamy!!
Oleg Shpak says
So, pictures of bunch of Adorama guys and no picture of Meirav? Not fair! 🙂
I have bought a lot of stuff from Adorama, but getting my pre-ordered D4 is right now a nightmare and their Customer Service Department is an oxymoron. There has been no customer service.
How could you know the “other side” since you will never experience it.
Joe Ethridge says
Another Saturday morning coffee spew.
You crack me up dude.
Mr. Snyder is the man. Straight forward, honest and helpful. I am pleased that he commutes to NYC from his home in the Mid-Atlantic. That way I get to see him at the Photo Pho lunches in Arlington. I buy a good part of my kit from Jeff and can not say enough positive comments about Mr. Snyder.
Decent is the best:)
I’m glad somebody out there has has a goodworking relationship with Adorama. Right now I have a bad taste in my mouth. You see I was doing a job and needed to replace my 24-70 lens. I called Adorama in the morning and told them I needed the lens the next day and was assured it would be delivered and I would receive it the next day. Did I receive it? Guess what I didn’t receive it the next day. I actually had UPS call Adorama and they could not confirm whether the equipment was on the truck. I lost that job which was a $2000 photo shoot.
I then told the Adorama people that I was going to be in NY, the next day. Could I pick it up at the store? I was told yes and when I went to the store that day. They were close because of some jewish holiday. I’ve called them numerous times to see what they were going to do for me, since I haven’t blown my stack, but to no avail. I’m left waiting on a phone listening to some pre-recorded message waiting to talk to someone who could help.
Like I said I’m glad you’ve had a good working relationship. If you had a problem like mine. I can guarantee you that you would have your equipment, probably delivered to you personally at your doorstep and they would kiss your a## because your Joe NcNally….
I love Adorama, and I think they love me as well (I deal with Helen directly if I have any issues)….I had to laugh before when I was trading in some gear, and they ask “have you shopped with Adorama before?”, and then they look at my account. Then I hear “oh yes, you have….oh….um, oh wow….yeah, I guess you have”
Still have yet to make in there in person though since they’re not open on Saturdays and that’s usually when I’m in the city.
Helen Oster says
firstly I would like to offer a deep and sincere apology for the frustration and disappointment over your recent order from Adorama. From the description of your experience, in your position I would be equally upset.
I appreciate that I can’t do anything to change what happened, but if you could please come back to me with your order number I would welcome the opportunity to investigate the string of events and poor service from some of our members of staff.
I can’t ID your order from your posting, but if I can help with an update I will – just drop me an email.
Adorama Camera Customer Service Ambassador
‘altar of gear’ – how true 😀
God bless the people behind the counter!
Only bad that for us from NJ and Adorama having their warehouse on our side of the Hudson we pay sales tax for online orders.Also when sometime back they tried to safe on their shipping cost and used some stupid shipment consolidator, shippinq parts needed 5-7 days to arrive here which is merely 10 miles away from their warehouse. That is while the other big NYC store is much smarter and has it to me next day with mostly free shipping. That’s whan Adorama mostly lost me as a customer.
Nevertheless the guys in the store are great and when I go there for something I need immediately it always is a great experience.
Good one Joe. Have never visited the NYC store or met the staff there, but if they are anything like Jeff I don’t think your prose do them justice… I have been with Jeff since his time at Penn Camera and working with the folks at SportsShooter (in the early days). On more than one occasion he has gone above and beyond. Most recently he was in Seattle prepping for the first day of your FlashBus tour. I sent him an email around 7am EST, to which he responded almost instantly and told me to give him a call (guess he was having a touch of insomnia that night, though I can’t imagine why…) He chatted with me for more than half an hour, even though it was 4am on the west coast, counseling me through major anxiety about upgrading almost half of my entire kit. Its reasons like that, which cause me to answer “You’ve got to talk to my guy Jeff at Adorama” when ever someone asks me about gear…
It’s great to hear of such a great business who cares about their customers. Your blog is the reason I decided to go with Adorama for my D4 preorder instead of the safe choice of Amazon.
Unfortunately, my mistake was not realizing that as a non-celebrity, non-NPS customer, I don’t really matter to them and they don’t care to treat me equally. But they’re happy to let me pick up with scraps. Evidently, my $6000 plus (overnight) shipping for a D4 is worth less than an NPS member’s $6000. Lesson learned: peons shop at regular dealers to receive customer service, celebs go to Adorama for service. 🙂
My ace in the hole has been Jimmy Newmark. He gets to the bottom line quickly and makes things happen. i will continue to lean on him for his advice and recommendations.
Thanks Jimmy and keep up the good work.
NOT MY EXPERIENCE AT ALL, unless you call ordering NEW and getting sent USED equipment and misrepresenting the value of my trade-in equipment (“forgetting” to mention that you only get 70% of the “value”) “pro” service.
Sorry, but hell will freeze over before I buy from Adorama.
Richard Koconis says
Wow, guess he’s no fan of Adorama. I guess I really don’t have an opinion one way or the other. I just love the way Joe write his posts’. As another reader already stated. You (Joe) always crack me up.