Louisville Magazine

MAY 2019

Louisville Magazine is Louisville's city magazine, covering Louisville people, lifestyles, politics, sports, restaurants, entertainment and homes. Includes a monthly calendar of events.

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44 LOUISVILLE MAGAZINE 5.19 e man in the yellow paisley chair has been here for a long time. You can tell by the outline of his body in the faded fabric. You can tell by the piles of books and bags and mail, as high as his head on both sides of him and at his feet. You can tell by the sleeping orange tabby cat on his lap, paws tucked under his belly, eyes closed and purring. e man in the yellow paisley chair seems to have leaned into the passage of time. He's wearing a green T-shirt that says "Never Underestimate an Old Man with a Volleyball." His white beard juts past his jawline, his wispy hair just over his ears, as if it hasn't been cut in a while. is is Chuck Rubin, inside his eponymous High- lands shop, Chuck Rubin Photographics. It's a quiet Tuesday afternoon at the shop — until three beeps and the front door opens and a young man walks in. He be- gins browsing the store without more than a nod to Rubin. A stuffed E.T. watches from a shelf, next to a giant Pentax analog clock, as the young man makes his way counterclockwise from the front alcove full of lights and stands, to the showcases lining the store's back and north walls, back toward the front and finally past the counter covered in cameras with yellowing handwritten notes like "works, no meter." e shelves behind it are covered in vintage cameras and relics from late-20th-century toy stores. A thin layer of dust covers it all. When the young man finally approaches Rubin, he's holding a strobe. "Sorry to interrupt," he says. "How much do you want for this?" "How much do you want to pay?" Rubin says. "Fifty dollars." "Okay, $30," Rubin fires back. Chuck Rubin Photographics has been at 1031 Bardstown Road for 31 years. e faded, red-painted concrete stairs and door lead to his signature dusty chaos and unmatched supply of antique and used cameras, bags, tripods, lights, stands and more. If you'd asked a young Chuck Rubin what he wanted to be when he grew up, he would not have answered "photographer," and he most certainly would not have answered "businessman." Born in 1945, in the Brooklyn neigh- borhood of East New York, Rubin recalls a normal upbringing with a lot of freedom to roam. His mother was a housewife, his father an engineer in the Coast Guard. "TV Mom and Dad," he calls them. No siblings, but Rubin remembers spending most of his time with seven neighborhood kids: "Alan, Jeffrey, Paul Cohen, Paul Ros- enfeld, Billy Wiener," he says, then pauses. "Howard Givner was not part of my crew. Who am I forgetting?" He shrugs. "at's enough — six out of seven is good." Rubin can recall, in detail, the day he beat up a kid named Joey Mechanic in front of Two Jacks Restaurant (which he'll happily tell you about if you ask), the days he spent at Coney Island with his father throwing back grape sodas and Nathan's Famous hot dogs ("Back when there was only one Nathan's!"), and being sent on a solo mission to Manhattan at age 10 for cheesecake ("It was a different time then"). If you'd asked a young Chuck Rubin what he wanted to be when he grew up, he also would not have answered "collector." Sure, he collected stamps and coins as a kid, but it seemed like every kid did back then. He was the kind of boy who didn't really imagine being a grownup or being one particular thing. When his father retired, Rubin was 19 and not mentally or financially ready to live in New York alone. So he followed his parents to the Atlantic coast of Florida and a Jewish retirement community. "I was the youngest person there by 30 years," he says, "so I went to college." At Miami Dade Junior College, Rubin accidentally discovered his first love, act- ing, by wandering into a big red barn on campus that turned out to be the college's playhouse. e first scene he was in, he got e young man cocks his head and paus- es, delightfully confused but grateful. "OK then!" he says. "ey were $50 back when everyone still used them. Now they're only worth $30," Rubin says. "I can't penalize you for not knowing the fair price. at's not for you to keep track of. at's my job." e young man walks over to the counter, but Rubin lingers in his chair. He looks at me and says, loud enough for the customer to hear, "I think he wants me to go over there." He sighs playfully. "I guess I will." e tabby leaps off Rubin's lap and silent- ly onto the floor as Rubin uses both hands to push himself up out of that yellow pais- ley chair. He makes his way to the counter, expertly shifting around the knee-high piles of boxes and plastic containers. He's tall and slow-moving, but with a lightness about him, like an old tree in the wind. Following the transaction, the young man gathers his things and turns away from the counter, when suddenly Rubin says, "Hey, I know you." e young man laughs. "Yeah. I've been coming here a long time." Rubin says, "at's right. Your dad is David Burton, the (former Courier-Journal) photographer." e young man lights up. "Yes, that's me. I'm Cooper." Cooper Burton has been coming to Chuck Rubin's since he was 10 years old. He can remember sitting on the floor, Rubin in the paisley yellow chair, other photographers circled around him, while Burton counted out his weekly allowance so he could buy one of his first cameras: a Pentax 67. Now that Burton is 26 and a freelance professional photographer, Chuck Rubin's is still his favorite place to buy equipment. He'll order things online if he needs to, but it's important to him to support Rubin. He feels a connection to this place. Coming into the store brings back memories of spending time with his dad, of the film cameras he learned on while growing up. Burton, strobe in one hand and pushing the door open with the other, pauses on his way out. "See you soon, Chuck," he says. Rubin chirps his usual farewell. "Have fun out there." LANDMARK

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