Nowell’s Camera Shop

Briana Schoen w Nowell’s sign 01-26-2022

Barb Frokler mentioned in a Facebook group called Cape Rewound that the Nowell’s Camera Shop sign that hung out over the sidewalk at 609 Broadway was in the basement of the Mississippi Mutts. I suggested to Carla Jordan, director at the Cape Girardeau County History Center in Jackson, that the sign would be a great acquisition if she could score it.

It WAS available, so I was dispatched to see if it would fit in my Honda Odyssey van. You can tell from comparing it to employee Briana Schoen that it wasn’t going to happen, even if I opened the sunroof.

Exhibit Kept Growing

Once the word got out that the sign would be part of a lobby exhibit, folks started contributing pieces of their personal photographic history.

History of 609 Broadway

A number of businesses have called this address home. One of the earliest was Phil C. Haman’s Drugs. The mosaic tile with the name is still there.

A 1934 Girardot ad said the store sold Kodaks, pens, pencils and drugs. The display window on the right used to read “Kodaks” in big black letters.

Eastman Kodak tried to get it taken down for trademark violation, but Nowell’s successfully argued that the sign dated back to when “Kodak” was a generic term for consumer cameras. I don’t know what happened to the window, maybe it was broken and replaced with clear glass.

I took the Broadway sign photo Sept. 12, 2001, when I rode my bike all over town shooting the main streets and landmarks.

Bill Nowell and his wife, Juvernia, opened Nowell’s Camera Shop in the early 1950s and became Cape’s only photo specialty shop.

The Mississippi Mutts folks moved into the location in 2015, after starting the business at 1231 Broadway in 2012. Sherry Jennings is the owner, and Barb Frokler is the manager.  The store sells a plethora of pet paraphernalia and treats, many goodies housed in the original cabinets along the walls. (I didn’t spot any Terrytoon movies, alas.)

Linda Folsom Hatch commented on another post that “My grandparents, Carl and Quinn Bauerle, bought the camera shop building and lived in the apartment upstairs for many years…..I still have some of the old bottles from the drug store (Hamans).”

Nowell’s supported The Girardot

Like Haman’s, Nowell’s bought an ad in the 1963 Central High School Girardot yearbook.

Some proofreader must have been asleep. Notice that the Walther’s Furniture Company ad spells the city’s name as “Garadeau.”

I practically lived in Nowell’s

Nowell’s Camera Store – Broadway 12-20-1966

I spent many a long hour leaning on the counters in the camera store lusting after Pentax cameras and lenses. (I didn’t switch to Nikon until after a student at Ohio University sold me a Nikon F with three lenses for $150 so he could pay his rent.)

Ironically, I have very few photos from the time I hid out there. I was a kid who got paid $5 per picture (later reduced to $3 a photo for non-assigned art when John Blue calculated that my salary plus freelance photos amounted to more money than some senior reporters made). 

Pictures that didn’t generate revenue didn’t get taken unless I was trying to finish out a roll.

Here’s how it works

Customers didn’t just walk in and buy a camera. Bill Nowell and his staff would help you make the right choice, then explain everything you needed to know to take good pictures.

When I did a blog post about Mary Nowell, the comment section was filled with tributes to her dad.

Try this in a big box store

A couple buddies and I decided to skip school one afternoon. To make my exit less obvious, I left my gear in the school darkroom.

Wouldn’t you know it, one of the first things we saw was a train vs truck crash in South Cape. I dashed into Nowell’s, grabbed a Pentax, a roll of Tri-X black and white film, and shouted, “I’ll be back” over my shoulder as I bolted out the door.

I don’t think Mr. Nowell batted an eye.

When I scanned the film recently, I discovered that I had not only shot the wreck, but a fire on the same roll. You can read a full report of my youthful transgressions here.

My buddies and I managed to escape any consequences from our absence. I DO recall, though, Mr. G. stopping me in the hall a few weeks later and saying, “I know you’re up to something, I just haven’t figured out WHAT yet. I’m keeping my eye on you.” Of course, knowing him, he probably delivered that speech to everybody at one time or another just to keep us on our toes.

Nowell’s fed my photographic addiction

I discovered a trove of cancelled checks written to the camera shop when I was rooting through old files. This was a place and a time when you could even write a “counter” check if you didn’t have your checkbook with you.

Mr. Nowell trusted a lot of young photographers by letting us buy on credit. I would usually pay cash for large purchases, like cameras and lenses, but I’d charge film and supplies.

I overheard Dad tell a friend of his one day, “Mr. Nowell even lets him run a charge account.” That was his form of bragging that his kid was recognized as trustworthy by a respected local businessman. It’s funny, but most of the praise I got from Dad was overheard, and not direct.

A cornucopia of cool stuff 

Nowell’s Camera Store – Broadway 12-20-1966

It wasn’t just cameras, film, chemicals and photo paper. You could walk in and be tempted by all kinds of cool stuff, including black & white 8mm Terrytoon cartoon films. (I’m pretty sure I’ll run across some reels of those one of these days.)

I don’t know how he did it, but Mr. Nowell managed to snag a dry mount press for me when they were supposed to be limited to governmental agencies. It mounted hundreds of prints for contests, classes and exhibits. It currently lives at the Jackson museum.

A place known for careful listening

No customer was rushed, no matter what the purchase. I wish I could remember this saleswoman’s name.

Marty Cearnal could twist my arm

To be fair, though, he didn’t have to twist it much to sell me photo gear. If you look up “super salesmen” in the dictionary, it probably has his photo next to it.




18 Replies to “Nowell’s Camera Shop”

  1. Boy that just brought back some old memories Kenny. Of course my grandparents lived upstairs for awhile and I still have a piece of furniture from the drug store that was there before the camera shop. If you ever do a story on the music store across the street, that building was also owned by my grandfather. When we visited Cape a few years ago we dropped by that building to look it over because as children we played on the second and third floor. Carl Bauerle bought that building for his furniture store, the Excelsor Furniture store. He later sold the building to Mr. Shivelbein. (not sure of the spelling). Ahh the old days….seems like just yesterday.

  2. As the story goes, back in the time when Phil Haman had his drug store there, my uncle Jim Haman worked for him. One day when Phil had to leave the store on an errand, a customer came in needing some cough medicine. In those days, that stuff was something a pharmacist had to make up. My uncle dealt with the customer and sent him on his way. When Phil returned he asked if there had been any customers. He was told, “only one needing cough medicine. Recognizing that his young nephew was not a pharmacist, he asked what Jim gave him. The reply was “croton oil”. To that Phil said, “Jimmy croton oil is a heavy laxative”, to which Jim said, “Yes and he will be afraid to cough.”

  3. Ken, this is a terrific post. Thank you for Sherlock Holmsing the sign. It is simply magnificent. Also, special thanks to the Mississippi Mutt’s crew-I cherish all of you. Thank you Siemer’s Appliance for pick-up and delivery, and especially Tommy for professionally cleaning the sign! We will keep it for all of you, forever.

  4. I worked at Nowell’s from 1979 to 1984, for Don Beattie after he’d bought the store from Mr. Nowell. Don had two full-time employees, Kevin Davis and Frank Bagbey, while I was the part-time employee working selected afternoons after school and on Saturdays. In my entire four-years attending SEMO, I only took one Saturday off. Don constructed a darkroom in the back circa 1981, and we used some of the original display cases from Haman’s drug store, including a large humidor, which often drew comments from customers. Some of those cases are still in use by Mississippi Mutts.

  5. Ken, your pictures at Nowell’s predate my experience by nearly a decade. In 1975, I started at the Southeast Missourian. It was a black-and-white world with photography at the time we bought supplies from Mr. Nowell. Before he retired in 1979, I made a picture of him comparing a Canon A-1 with a small Pentax Auto 110.

      1. I really don’t remember, but I would bet that there’s a sticker on the sign someplace that said who made it! Take a look and let me know.

  6. Ken, I bought my first cameras and dark room equipment at Haman’s Drug Store; the second camera in 1951. It was an Ansco Pioneer with a folding fan flash attachment. It was a simple box camera and I was attracted to it as it was shaped like a 35 mm which was beyond my price range. I really lusted after the Pentax as well. Mr Klaus taught us how to develop film in the photography club and I used that camera to take photos for the Girardot, some of which remain in the 1`951 and 52 editions. I remember using Velox and Velux photo paper, one of which could be used in room light?

    1. My first camera was the family’s Kodak Tourist II Folding Camera that I took on the family’s Florida vacation trip in 1960. I bought a used Weston Master II light meter from Nowell’s for $15. I hardly needed it since the camera had a slow f/12.5 lens, and I think the shuttere choices were 1/60, T(time) and B(bulb).

      I shot photos with a Kodak Pony 135, my first 35mm camera. It wasn’t much, but it was good enough to use for some freelance work. My folks gave me an Argus Autronic 35 for Christmas. It was a step up. Not long after that, I started working at The Jackson Pioneer and freelancing for The Missourian, which let me grow a stable of Pentax bodies and lenses.

  7. Bill kept my dad’s 8mm camera working through 1964, and set me up with a “new” Kodak 8 mm while I was at the Academy.
    Those 8mm prints are being converted to MP4 through an iPhone 8+ from projection onto white screen.
    Cool factor is recording the projector sound track.

  8. I first encountered the Nowell experience when I talked to Mr. Nowell about my desire to photograph in caves. He suggested and sold me a 35 mm Aries Viscount with a 1.9 lens for low light. I never developed my own images and the first time Mr. Nowell looked at my processed slides, he expressed surprise at the range of color in the caves. I carried camera, flash, etc. in a large ammunition case that sealed, but one trip it sprung open and my camera rolled into the cave stream! I took it to Mr. Nowell and he said I should have immersed the camera in gasoline to displace the water, but he said to leave it with him and he’d try to save it. Many weeks later, he called and my camera was fixed (by him, I believe; as he didn’t charge me for the repair!). The camera worked fine and I still have it, but am all digital now. He was a wonderful man.

    1. I covered a swim meet at SEMO’s indoor pool on one of the coldest days of the year. My equipment had been left in the car, so it was ice-cold. When I walked into the high humidity of the pool area, water condensed all over the camera and lens, inside and out.

      I took it to Mr. Nowell, who said it looked like the dust inside the body had turned to mud. He got me back in action, and I don’t recall what he charged. Way less than what the job was worth, I’m sure.

  9. Ken, Thank you so much for publishing this absolute treasure trove of images and information. My dad Marty Cearnal sure had fond memories of this place and you. He often told me a story of you getting a perfect shot after a hostage situation? or robbery? He told me the perpetrator came running out armed, and you called out Hey! He said the guy looked right at you and you took the picture. I’d love to see that shot. Sadly my dad passed away on March 17th but before we lost him I came across your blog and read him the comment you made about him playing you Dylan and Joan Baez. He sure smiled at that. My mom thinks of you fondly as well. I believe you shot their wedding? Sending all my best, one photographer to another. Thanks for doing so much to help me understand a bit about my dad before I was born.

  10. Hi Ken, I’m a documentary filmmaker interested in featuring one of your images in a film. I can’t find your e-mail anywhere on your site! I would love a chance to talk to you about the image, let me know if I can get in touch.

    Chris Boyd

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