Bay Camera Company offers a welcome alternative to big-box photo prints
Photos courtesy of BAY CAMERA COMPANY
LINDA SOTO HAS been developing film in Savannah for more than 20 years — first in retail at the now-shuttered Eckerds Pharmacy and today as owner of Bay Camera Company in Habersham Village. Along the way, she’s had a front-row seat to photography’s evolution, where these days, the word “camera” is more likely to refer to a phone and printing photos can be done entirely virtually without a single customer service representative involved.
That’s part of the reason Soto, who began at Bay Camera Company as a lab manager in 2003 before taking over ownership in 2009, tries to offer a different experience at her shop, which opened in 1983 and has been locally owned since. It’s easier and faster than ever to take and print pictures, for amateurs and professionals alike. But at Bay Camera Company, personal relationships with decades-long customers still make the best photographs.
“We care deeply about our customers, and we like the process of working with them to give them the best pictures we can,” she says. For example, when someone sends the store a photo file that’s too small to print, Soto or another member of the team will call them to check about a larger file. “Many times, the customer just wasn’t aware they needed to send the bigger file because it prints a better-resolution photo,” she explains. “We try to offer a more personal, caring experience—which isn’t to say big-box stores aren’t caring. Sometimes, they just might not have the time to go out of their way like we do.”
It’s not just the customer service that stands out at the shop. Walking into Bay Camera Company, customers are instantly transported to a different time in photography’s history. A mini camera museum sits at the back of the store, where Soto showcases a collection of vintage cameras. One of her favorite relics on display is a Kodak camera, mass produced in the 1920s and 1930s, with folding bellows.
“We care deeply about our customers, and we like the process of working with them to give them the best pictures we can.” — Linda Soto
In fact, rare and used cameras dot the shop’s shelves throughout, while tripods and lights set up on the floor can make the space feel more like a photo studio than store. There’s even a free bin, where Bay Camera Company’s large student customer base, who come from Savannah College of Art and Design, Savannah Country Day School and St. Vincent’s Academy, among others, pilfer through old camera parts, cases, batteries and other donated goods.
While Bay Camera Company has a well-rounded mix of customers, from those who simply need a roll of film printed to professional photographers in search of hard-to-find 120 mm film, the store holds a special place in the hearts of photography devotees. “We certainly have a group of customers who simply love the pure form of art that photography is,” Soto says. “It’s especially meaningful to know we have customers who have since moved away from Savannah but continue to ship their film back to us to develop. Or people who recommend us to their friends who live in smaller cities where a photography lab like ours doesn’t exist.”
Another cherished customer base? The locals who have been getting their photos developed with Bay Camera Company since it opened. “First we developed their film, and then we saw their kids grow up, and now we’re
processing their kids’ film,” Soto says. “It’s special to see it come full circle in that way.”