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.

 

 

 

Kodachrome R.I.P.

2015-03-14 Kodachrome Mailers 01It’s getting time for me to head back to Cape, so Wife Lila has been stuffing my clothes in a suitcase so they are ready to go. That means that when I went to the sock and underwear drawers this morning, I could see all the way to the bottom.

Now, the bottom of my sock and underwear drawers are the swamps where I hope dinosaur memories will go to turn into diamonds under a combination of pressure and the passage of time.

Souvenirs, cards from friends and family, Boy Scout badges, my old high school medals, the Richard Nixon cufflinks, the Cross pen and pencil set I got for 10 years of service at The Palm Beach Post, some Steinhoff, Kirkwood and Joiner wooden pencils, Old Maid playing cards from grade school days…. all sink to the bottom. Things get shuffled enough that their ages could be determined by carbon dating, but they wouldn’t necessarily be stratified in date order.

Back in the back of the back, hiding under a baseball autographed by a bunch of guys who might or might not be famous, was a stack of Kodachrome prepaid mailers that I bought when I was photographing the last days of Trinity Lutheran Church in 1978.

Kodachrome introduced in 1935

2015-03-14 Kodachrome Mailers 02Eastman Kodak introduced the color reversal film Kodachrome in 1935. “Color reversal” meant the end product was a positive image that could be projected rather than a negative that had to be reversed in the printing process.

Kodachrome was produced as 16mm film at first, but branched out in other sizes over the years. Our 8mm home movies were shot on Kodachrome and lots of my early 35mm slides were on that brand. Until GAF bought the company, even my Viewmaster slides were Kodachrome.

Required special processing

2015-03-14 Kodachrome Mailers 03Unlike black and white film and Ektachrome, which could be processed in a home darkroom (or even in the back of a small airplane), Kodachrome had to be sent off so one of a handful of special labs

The closest one to Cape was in Chicago.

Unfortunately, demand for Kodachrome died off with the popularity of Ektachrome and Fujichrome E6 films. Digital photography killed it off completely. On July 14, 2010, the last roll of Kodachrome was processed for Steve McCurry, on assignment for National Geographic. It was a 74-year run.

Even black and white was sent away

2015-03-14 Kodachrome Mailers 04When Dad took in some of my film from our big 1960 vacation trip to Florida for processing, Nowell’s Camera Shop shipped the rolls off.

Here’s something that you youngsters who are sexting on your smartphones won’t encounter: Kodak was pretty prudish. If you sent them any pictures that were the least bit racy, they not only wouldn’t return them; they might even turn them over to the cops or the postal authorities who would come to chat with you.

Because of that, we photographers on the university newspaper and yearbook would sometimes be approached to do some discrete processing for some guy who didn’t want to send his “art” off to Kodak.

After my first freelance processing job, I saw why the other guys would turn down that business. We weren’t afraid of getting caught: it just wasn’t worth the hassle. Hormonally hindered guys who aren’t real photographers would bring in horribly underexposed, blurry pictures that might be of their girlfriend or a water buffalo. Then, when you couldn’t pull anything recognizable off the film, they’d refuse to pay up. We would suggest they go uptown and buy a cheap Polaroid if they planned to ever do that kind of photography again.

Black & white only went to St. Louis

2015-03-14 Kodachrome Mailers 05A piece of tape on the back of the processing envelope said my film had been sent to The Carna Studio in St. Louis. Cape probably didn’t generate enough processing business for Bill Nowell to invest in the kind of equipment it would take to automate the process and to carve out enough space in the store to set it up.

On top of that, keeping the chemicals balanced is difficult if you don’t run a large volume of film through it. I was pleased when a Kodak rep who looked at the calibration strips at we ran at The Post said that our results were better than a commercial lab in town, probably because we processed more film per day than they did and (I like to think) our lab techs were better trained and more motivated.

So, if Kodachrome ever comes back, I’m ready with my envelopes.

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.

ALWAYS Carry the Camera

I’ve shot so many wrecks and fires that most of them are a blur. This one stands out in my mind for one reason: I wasn’t supposed to be there. (That’s my 1959 Buick LaSabre station wagon in the background. I tried to blow the picture up to see who my cohorts in crime were, but I couldn’t make them out. (Click on the photos to make them larger.))

Truck vs. Train

A couple buddies and I decided to cut class one afternoon. Maybe we had study hall or something where we wouldn’t be missed, I don’t remember. It was well known that I never went anywhere without my camera and an ugly orange plastic-covered camera bag, so I elected to leave them in the school darkroom so I’d be less obvious.

No telling why we were on the south end of town near the dogleg at Elm and Fountain and the railroad tracks near Leming Lumber. I might have heard the call on my police monitor and decided to chase it.

I imagine I said something like “DRAT!” when I reached for my camera and came up dry.

Dash to Nowell’s

My station wagon must have been a red streak when I drove across town to Nowell’s Camera Shop. I dashed inside, reached into the display case for a Pentax camera, grabbed a roll of Tri-X off another shelf and hollered over my shoulder on the way out the door, “I’ll settle up with you later.” I don’t think Bill Nowell so much as blinked an eye. Try that in one of the Big Box stores today and see what happens.

God and the preacher

I managed to get back in time to get at least one shot that ran in the paper; the top one, I think. There are big gaps in the Google Archives for 1964, so I couldn’t find the actual story. This was one time I was happy that The Missourian didn’t give me a byline.

I was in the situation of the preacher who called in sick on Sunday morning to play golf. God and St. Peter are perched on clouds watching him approach the first tee. “Watch this,” God says, directing the ball to go straight into the hole. The same thing happened on the next four holes.

“Why did you reward him for neglecting his flock?” St. Peter asked, perplexed. “Wouldn’t a bolt of lightning been more appropriate?

“Who is he going to tell?” God said with a wicked smile.

Vintage cars burned up

These two fire pictures were on the same roll. I remember absolutely nothing about them. They had to have been shot on the same day, because I returned the camera to Nowell’s right away.

Body language haunting

What I notice in this photo is the haunting body language that signals despair. These aren’t merely spectators. They are people who have lost something important to them. They remind me a bit of the Reid Family in Ohio: stunned and numb.

You can tell a big difference between the people standing here and the curious bystanders in the truck vs. train crash.

The vehicle in the foreground looks like a stock car.

We didn’t get caught

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.

The lesson I learned that day was NEVER go anywhere without a camera.

Copyright © Ken Steinhoff. All rights reserved.