70 years young: big changes to celebrate for Atlantic Photo Supply

On the eve of Atlantic Photo Supply's 70th birthday, I had the pleasure of a chat with Brian Giffin, APS owner, and Allen Sutherland, the store manager. They've got some exciting news to share—news that's going to make for a busy summer for everyone who works at the veteran downtown photo resource. ~ Kate Inglis

Kate: Happy birthday, guys.

Brian: It does feel a bit like that. We've worked here a long time. It's pretty cool to run a store that's got seventy years of history. And thanks to Allen and the rest of our staff, we've got a constant source of new ideas that our customers love. So we've managed to stay current and creative, which is great.

Allen: Brian's handy because we need a tough guy around here.

Kate: Seventy years—that's a lot of pictures. And a lot of stars. What's the news?

Brian: Well, business is great. We're steady, with a loyal customer base. We could easily keep doing what we're doing, but we want to be able to do more. So later this summer, we're moving our entire production team and all our equipment to a new 5000 square-foot facility at 202 Brownlow Ave in Dartmouth's Burnside neighbourhood. We'll be open by August, with not only much happier lab employees in their much bigger space, but with a new retail store to serve the Dartmouth side.

The new Burnside digs

Kate: You're moving to Dartmouth? I thought you guys were Spring Garden devotees.

Brian: Well, Dartmouth gives us room to grow, and a chance to connect with people who don't make it into the downtown core. But we're staying downtown, too—we much as we love our building on the Birmingham Street corner, the lab's move to Dartmouth makes that building not quite right for us. And so we're thrilled to have found a retail space literally in our backdoor yard—it'll be at City Centre Atlantic, just a block over.

The soon-to-be new location at City Centre Atlantic, around the corner from Spring Garden Road

Kate: So you're moving—twice—but also staying. You'll still be downtown. I think I've got it. Who's going to lift the Chromira?

Brian: Allen.

Kate: When will you be settled? That's not going to be an easy feat, is it? I've seen the upstairs at Spring Garden and Birmingham. You've got a lot going on up there.

Allen: It really is the biggest thing we've ever attempted, to vacate this building that we've been in for over thirty years, and then to establish two new locations at the same time. But we really need it to grow. We should have both locations open and churning out prints and canvases by late August or early September, as long as the moving trucks don't buckle under the weight of Brian's deep-space telescopes.

Brian: Or Allen's ideas.

Kate: When it's all done, what can downtown customers expect from the new place at City Centre?

Allen: It's actually going to end up being more retail space than we have now. We'll have the same broad selection of cameras and lenses and equipment—and even though our primary production facility will be in Dartmouth, we'll continue to offer printing downtown as well. Our customers will just need to walk around the corner from our current shop on Spring Garden, and to come in through the side entrance of City Centre off Birmingham.

Barrington Street, 1942

Kate: Is it going to be a little bittersweet to leave the old storefront?

Brian: My grandfather, Walter Ditmars, lived well into his nineties and there were many things I learned from him but one thing stands out—it's never too late to change. When he sold his business at the age of sixty-five we all thought he'd get serious about his golf game, travel, and enjoy his retirement. Which Atlantic Photo could sure do, being established for long. We could coast, I suppose, and just keep things the same. But it's like my grandfather—after he retired, he scored the highest mark ever in a piano tuning course, and then went on to reach legendary status for that new career for the next 15 years or so. It really revitalized him, and we feel the same way—like there's still lots to do, and we'd rather be doing more cool stuff than to coast.

That's a long way of saying that yes, it'll be a bittersweet day—but the bittersweet of it will be offset by all this shiny new space, and all that it'll allow us to do.

30+ years at the corner of Spring Garden and Birmingham Street

Kate: When you guys said you were moving, I was worried this would be another leaving-downtown story. I'm glad it's not.

Brian: Oh, absolutely not—though I get what you're saying. It's a really gloomy time economically, and nobody likes to see our neighbourhoods suffering in favour of the big-box industrial parks. They've got their purpose—our new lab is a perfect example—but we're 100% committed to our downtown life too. We've been serving customers downtown since 1942, first from Barrington Street, when it was cobblestones, and then from Spring Garden Road since 1980.

This isn't a compromise or business consolidation. It's pure growth, and it's great news for our employees and customers.

Allen: Our 'lab rats', as we call them, really need this. We outgrew the Spring Garden lab long ago. We've been crawling over each other to get the job done—to run a modern professional photo lab, efficiency is the key. As of this summer, we'll have 5000 square feet dedicated to efficiency. It's a win for APS as well as for our pro and consumer clients across the region. Not to mention all the Dartmouth folks who won't need to cross the bridges anymore to get to us!

Kate: Will there be cake?

Brian: There'll be at least two cakes.

Kate: Can I have some?

Allen: Only after I move the Chromira and replenish my blood sugar.

Kate: I'll gladly give up my slice—even with buttercream—to fuel a happy change like this.

Guest contributor and author Kate Inglis of sweet | salty likes buttercream. A lot.

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