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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48 LOUISVILLE MAGAZINE 5.19 showcase worth. Everything was working exactly the way it should and better than he could have guessed. So he kept going. In the late 1980s, film photography was king, and Rubin felt like the king of film. His inventory grew and shrank appropriately with the pace of quick and lucrative sales. He was making enough money to go to camera shows all across the country, and to Europe to buy more interesting and expensive cameras, including two daguerreotype cameras from the 1850s — the oldest and most precious pieces he's ever owned. In a matter of a couple of years, Rubin turned those eight cameras and single set of shelves into a room lined with hundreds of cameras in jagged rows, squeezing in as many as pos- sible. He taped a square onto the floor to- ward the back of the store to stand tripods and other products that didn't fit into the showcases. At the height of his business, Rubin estimates, his inventory was worth more than half a million dollars. en, sometime in the early 1990s, a new product exploded onto the consumer market, the crispness, speed and efficiency of which film cameras could not compete: the digital camera. "Digital was the death of us," Rubin says. e majority of Rubin's customers are professional photographers and students, who, out of necessity, quickly made the jump to digital. Buying a more expensive piece of equipment means holding on to it for longer, so no one was quick to sell their digital camera to Rubin. In addition, many film photography accessories — a large chunk of Rubin's business — were rendered unnecessary. Rubin is the first to admit that he is slow — if not often downright opposed — to change. "I sell film cameras. Just because they sell digital doesn't mean I stop doing what I do," he says of that period. "I'm so stubborn I could kick my own ass." He laughs. "It doesn't hurt anyone but me." It took Rubin 11 years to acquire his first digital camera at the store. ese days, it's full of them (all used, of course) and he understands why his store isn't the first des- tination in mind for customers seeking a digital product. "I don't know that I'd buy a digital camera from this place," he says of his own store. "I'd go to Murphy's. I do go to Murphy's. It's all chrome and glass, and clean. But film cameras thrive here, all dusty and stuff." As photographic technology changed, so did another key piece of Rubin's business: the Internet. at's what Jess is here for. She walks behind a waist-high pile of fabric backdrops supported by plastic tubs and boxes on a two-tiered metal shelf. Un- der a giant flag covered in crumbled plaster from the ceiling, a cardboard cutout of Marilyn Monroe at her back, she switches on a lamp and suddenly that corner of the dusty chaos takes the shape of a desk and a computer. Every Saturday, she comes to her father's store to photograph and list inventory to be sold on eBay. e Internet, and sites like eBay in particular, has been both helpful and destructive to the store. Instead of going to brick-and-mortar shops like Rubin's, cus- tomers can Google what they're looking for and find it for sale on multiple websites. e upside is that Rubin's eBay page may be one of those sites. Rubin isn't shy about the fact that eBay sales have kept the store afloat for the past several years and likely will for however many more he's open. ough film photography is enjoying a bit of renaissance these days, Rubin knows the medium — and his business — will never reach the heights of the early days. "It's not going to come back even to one-tenth of what it was. It used to be, when school started in September, we would sell 100 to 200 cameras to photography students," he says. "is was even five years ago. Now we sell 20. "Which is a whole lot better than noth- ing," he adds. When he first opened, Rubin modified an old computer program himself to keep track of his inventory. But when the hard drive broke, he never fixed it. After that, he tracked his purchases on yellow legal pads, but eventually, he lost interest in trying. It's been about 20 years since he knew his exact inventory and how much it's worth. Currently, Rubin estimates there are about 200 cameras for sale in the store, 200 antique cameras and about 100 mini cam- eras. ree of the cameras in his collection are worth between $15,000 and $20,000 apiece, and he estimates the rest are worth maybe $300 apiece, on average. He doesn't care to calculate whatever the total may be. Jess isn't the only person working at the store on Saturday. Ron Bailey shuffles around piles of inventory up to his knees, sorting mail and packages in be- tween ringing up customers. Bailey started coming into the store almost a quarter-cen- tury ago, as a hobbyist photographer and customer. But after about a dozen years of coming back, he had learned enough about cameras and photo gear that he would hang out in the store and help customers, just because he wanted to. Bailey is also a member of the Camera Club of Louisville, a fellowship of local photographers and those who want to learn. ey raise money for their club and photo trips through camera sales. Rubin provides the merchandise for those sales, free of charge. Bailey holds up a brown cardboard box with postage taped to the front. "Here's that package!" he shouts to Rubin. en to me, with a head tilt, eyes wide as he says through his teeth: "It's only been missing for two weeks." Debbie Bradshaw carries three trash bags full of old papers through the store to the dumpster. She's Bailey's friend and works here Saturday mornings, too, trying to clean up the chaos. While she's here, she never stops moving, rearranging inventory and asking Rubin what to keep and what to throw away. But the store has been this way for too long. e dusty chaos always seems to remain. Classic rock plays on a radio out of sight while a retro red clock ticks Saturday morn- ing on. When its hands mark 10:30 — just 30 minutes after the store opened — Rubin looks at Bailey and says, "Now, take a break." Bailey says he will, but first he needs to see if an old battery charger works. Rubin immediately shoots back: "Well, then, plug it in and lick it." ree beeps and the front door opens. In walks a man with a black newsboy cap, salt- and-pepper soul patch, and a Queens accent. He could easily be mistaken for Dustin Hoffman. He walks the narrow aisle from the front door and sits down in a gray office chair opposite Rubin's yellow paisley one. Fred DiGiovanni is a local "silver" photog- rapher. He processes monochrome images in his personal darkroom at his Highlands home and shows in galleries all over the country. His story is similar to Bailey's: He came in for photo gear, kept coming back for the camaraderie. "I came in one day just after Chuck had opened the shop," DiGiovanni says. "is was around 1988. I started asking a bunch of questions and Chuck turned to me and, with his Brooklyn accent, said, 'Now, who are you?'" DiGiovanni chuckles. "We became fast friends."

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