Mary Nowell of Themis Street

Mary Nowell c 1966Mary Nowell was one of the many Central High School students who lived on Themis Street. I did a video of Linda Stone and Tricia Tipton sitting on Linda’s old steps and listing off all the classmates who grew up around them.

I didn’t know Mary well, but her dad, Bill Nowell, was a major influence in my life. Mr. Nowell owned Nowell’s Camera Shop at 609 Broadway. Other boys hung out in pool rooms and gas stations, but we photo geeks gravitated to Nowell’s so we could drool over the latest Pentax cameras (he carried Nikon gear, but Cape was a Pentax town), Honeywell strobes and other gizmos.

There was faint acidic smell of photo chemicals in the air, along with the odor of unopened boxes of photo paper and film. When I walked into The Palm Beach Post’s photo department stock room, I’d be transported back in time to Nowell’s. I can’t describe the smell, but I’d recognize it anywhere.

Mr. Nowell took a chance on us

Mary Nowell c 1966Mr. Nowell took a chance on us kids. I don’t know how many teenage boys were extended credit, but I was one of them. I don’t recall Mr. Nowell and I ever discussing it, it just happened. I know he didn’t talk to my parents about it.

Dad grew up in the Depression era where you paid cash. I remember overhearing him talking to a friend one day when he didn’t know I was in the vicinity. He was telling him that Mr. Nowell (he was the kind of man you didn’t call “Bill’) was letting me “put stuff on the books.” Dad said it in a way that indicated that he was proud that an adult trusted me enough to give me credit.

I was always careful to pay the bill off regularly. I always paid for major purchases like cameras and lenses on the spot, but I would charge consumables like film, paper and chemicals. When the balance hit around 25 bucks, I’d pay it off and start again. I’ve held off writing about Nowell’s because I keep hoping I run across more photos taken in the shop.

I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone more kind and decent than Mr. Nowell.

11 Replies to “Mary Nowell of Themis Street”

  1. The distinct aromatic blend that you describe was very familiar to me as well; my uncle Jim Haman (also a friend of Bill Nowell), had a dark room and processing lab in his basement as well as downtown at Kassel’s Studio and later at Haman’s Kastle. I can still remember what that smelled like although I haven’t been near any photo chemicals since the early eighties.

  2. A lovely tribute! As another Themis Street kid, I remember Nowell’s well as my Dad Girdin Nunnelly was another photo geek who was constantly at Nowell’s drooling over film cameras!! His old Bell and Howell 8mm projector still works though he can’t get bulbs for it any more! My first Brownie and later Polaroid came from Nowells. Thanks,Ken!!

  3. Mr. Nowell walked to and from work every day unless either rain or snow were chasing him from the outdoors. He helped Mary Lynn and me with our Girl Scout photography badge. I will always remember how difficult it was to transfer the exposed film into the developing cannister while being closed in a dark closet. Yes, there is no way to disguise the distinct and awful smells associated with film developing. Mr. Nowell’s patience was never ending while he led me thru the developing and printing processes.

    My parents and the Nowells were dear friends. Dad spent lots of time in the camera shop as Mr. Nowell helped him select the perfect equipment. His camera and slide projector still work well, and my sister and I have a gazillion slides to go through.

    Mary Lynn was/is a one of a kind nice person. When we were attending Franklin, we used to visit back and forth at each other’s homes. I loved going to her house, because she had games to play that we didn’t have, and she had a rabbit!! Doug, my husband, could never understand why i always had to go to the feed store around Easter time to hold the baby bunnies. (Of course that is Mary Lynn’s fault!!) Also, Mrs Nowell made wonderful lunches, and since my mom worked full time, those delicious meals saved me from another sandwich.

    During junior high, Mary Lynn and I went to Keller’s Stables almost every Saturday to ride horses. We rode so often, Mr Keller let us ride anywhere we pleased……county road loop or huge field next to the barn. Mary Lynn was a good rider, I pretty much hung on.

    I hope Mary Lynn will see this tribute to her father and let us know where she is and what road she has traveled the past 40+ years.

  4. I got a late start in photography, but mr. nowell was instrumental in helping me get geared up with a Canon AT-1 and a few lenese. Like you, I only charged diposable products, and paid for cameras and lens in cash. Mr. Nowell, and later Don Beattie(Spelling?) both extended credit and i had the time of my life. I am sorry I did not come to photography while in school, but that smell had tom have been stopbath. That was a great store in its day.

  5. I also remember Mr. Nowell: what a great guy. Patient, unassuming, kind, and gentle. The kind of person anyone would want their kids hanging around. I couldn’t afford any of the “real” gear that he sold; I bought Jerry Snell’s Minolta A-5 rangefinder and wished I could have bout a Canon (which I now do have). I did buy lots of photo paper, bulk rolls of Tri-X, and the assorted darkroom gear from him. The one thing I do remember learning from that experience: spend money on glass. I bought a Dirst enlarger with the basic lens, and when I got it home I was so disappointed in the quality I spent another $25 or $50 (that was big money for me then) for a better lens.
    I do recall Mary vaguely, but I vividly remember Mr. Nowell. Thanks for the reminder!

  6. Thanks Ken for the story of the Nowells. Yes , Sally, it was a special treat to walk 3 doors up yo play with Mary Lynn. She had toys that we could not afford- like Barbie Dolls! They were the nicest people on the block.

  7. Thanks Ken for the great article about my dad! He was truly a good person who always saw the best in everybody! He was always even tempered, I don’ t remember him ever getting mad, determinded sometimes, but never angry. He started as a watchmaker, and was lucky (and determinded), enough to turn a camera and jewelry store into a business he loved! He loved the mechanics of the cameras, and the photographers who came into his business!

    I always enjoy reading about Cape! I think every house on Themis had at least one child, and there were no houses or yards that we were ‘off-limits’! We walked to Franklin School in a group or by ourselves, and sometimes home for lunch. When our parents wanted us to come home before dark they yelled our name , or I remember someone’s parent having a really cool whistle! When it snowed we had an awesome hill for sledding. If I remember correctly the police would block the top of the street to traffic, and we would wear those useless red boots and have a ball! We were lucky to grow up in Cape!

    Thanks again for the article about Dad! He thought a lot of you and would be pleased!

    Nice pictures! I told my husband they were taken yesterday!

  8. If you look up the word gentleman in the dictionary, they should have a portrait of Mr. Nowell. He always had a smile and words of encouragement for us budding photographers back then in the 60s and 70s. A great man of the greatest generation. The store was unlike anything we will experience again. He, and his successor, Don Beattie, were always the first choice for myself and many other people for buying equipment and supplies. Mr. Nowell left a legacy on how to run a business.
    By the way, I went with the Canon route with Mr. Nowell, partly due to the influence of Bill Hampton who helped me get started in photography, and use no other brand to this day for my work. Started with a Canon FTb with a fast 50mm normal lens and a 135mm tele.
    I doff my hat to Mr. Nowell. One of the best.
    Tom Neumeyer

  9. Dennis here – I totally agree on Mr. Nowell’s character. When I decided about age 14 to begin taking photos in caves, he spent time giving me advice and suggested what to buy for my first “real” camera. Years later, when I dropped said camera in a cave stream, Mr. Nowell said I could send it to the factory or he could work on it – cheaper. He had it for quite awhile, working on it during free time and then didn’t charge me for his efforts!

  10. Mr. Nowell was wonderful man he taught me a lot about photography. Even though I had little, if none, money to spend he was always was willing to help. He even came in after hours one night to help me load film into the 4 × 5 cameta holders. I only have great and fond memories of him. Great pics of Mary Lou. I am sure she has not changed a bit over the years. Thom Hopen

  11. Definitely one of my hero’s. Mr and Mrs Nowell were two of the kindest people I’ve ever experienced. I was always fascinated by his little watchmaker’s desk in an office/work room just off the main store. Like many others have stated, he spent a huge amount of time at getting me started in my career in photography and when he passed, I was honored to be chosen as one of his pall bearers on a very somber day for all of us who were lucky to know him!

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