Longtime Bennington photo business prepares to close at end of March
BENNINGTON -- After 45 years of serving the Bennington area's photography needs, CTC Vermont Color Photo Lab, at 252 Benmont Ave., will be closing its doors for good.
The store will close on March 31, and will run a going out of business sale -- where everything will be sold for cost or below -- starting on Saturday, Feb. 22, and running through March 29.
"It was a tough decision to make," said owner Bruce Laumeister. "This business has been here for 45 years, and I've owned it for 34."
Laumeister said any orders placed during the next five weeks will be completed, even if they take longer than March 31.
Laumeister is best known in the Bennington area for being the financial force behind the Bennington Center for the Arts, which was built by Laumeister and his wife, Elizabeth Small. The center opened in 1994, and displays much of the artwork the couple collected over the years. Laumeister said the money to build the arts center came from his photography business. "My hope was to go on supporting the arts center, but we just can't," he said.
"As I learned at Harvard getting an MBA, you have to know what business you're in," said Laumeister, "Well, we're in the business of putting color on paper, and nobody's doing that anymore."
Costs about $5,000 a month
He said that the company has not turned a profit in about six years, but he kept it running with personal funds so that the employees could keep their jobs. "Some of them have worked here for 30 or more years," he said.
However, he estimated, to keep the store open now costs him about $5,000 a month.
One of his employees, Wayne McClure, who was working the front desk on Monday, had been working at Wilson Photography when Laumeister purchased it many years ago. Laumeister described him as an excellent technician, both with photography equipment and computers, and said that he could be making a lot more money in the technology field. Laumeister said he hoped to find him another job before the photo lab closed its doors.
Laumeister worked for Kodak during the summer while he was attending college, but didn't return to the photo industry for many years. After spending time as the CEO of General Electric's "Elec-Trak" electric tractor program, he felt he needed to get away from the corporate world. "When I came here in 1980, I was a refugee from big business," he said, "The last two companies I had been CEO of had made so much money they sold them."
Laumeister, who will turn 80 next month, still runs a management consulting and leasing business.
He opened his first one-hour photo lab at the Holyoke Mall in Holyoke, Mass., but after sales were disappointing, he packed up the entire lab and moved to Keene, N.H. Since, he opened labs in every New England state except Rhode Island. "For whatever reason," he said, "we never did get Rhode Island."
"Unfortunately", as Laumeister put it, "some guy invented digital."
He added, "More than four times as many photos are being shot today, by cameras or cell phones, but less than 10 percent are developed. That's what killed this business." Laumeister pointed to the estimated more than 12 billion photographs that have been lost forever due to digital data loss, such as servers being shut down or users accidentally deleting their photos, which he attributed to a lack of education of digital systems.
"Most grandchildren born today will never see their grandparents' photos," he said.
CTC will be referring their mail-order customers to another company, hopefully one in Burlington, but the details of that transaction have not yet been finalized, said Laumeister, who said that no one else in Southern Vermont is doing print developing. He said the digital scanning equipment might be moved to the arts center, but that also hadn't been decided yet.
"It's a damn shame what has happened," said Laumeister. "It was a memories business."
Contact Derek Carson at email@example.com or on Twitter @derekcarsonBB
TALK TO US
If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.