On Saturdays in the 1950s, my father and I would occasionally head from our Bronx apartment to the subway at Yankee Stadium for the 15-minute ride to Manhattan’s Columbus Circle. From there we’d make regular stops walking downtown: Jack Dempsey’s restaurant, where the great boxer occupied a window booth; the small magic shop, where amazing feats were performed at the counter; and finally, Willoughby’s Camera Store. Dad loved cameras and talking photography with the salesmen there before we headed home.
Prior to acquiring an Argus, he had an ever-present Kodak Pony, favoring slides when the shots were developed. (Years ago my sister set herself the task, which I’m not sure she has begun yet, of transferring the many slides into some sort of computer format.) These pleasant memories caught me by surprise some years back while me and my dachshund buddy, Jasper, stood staring at an honest-to-gosh genuine camera shop, The Camera Corral, before we continued our stroll down Sherman Avenue.
I recently saw a notice on the store’s door that it was moving and decided to investigate. Jasper was an immediate hit with manager and dog lover Celeste K-Muerlott and even scored a doggy treat! Celeste introduced me to the proprietor, Dan Dolezal, who said the shop had been at that 515 E. Sherman spot since 1983. He’d taken over the business in 1988, buying out the previous owners, Clarence “Tyke” Van Dellen and David “Duke” Riglin. Dan sold the building in 2017, which in turn has led to what Celeste terms “the next chapter:” a new shop opening at Harbor Plaza on Northwest Boulevard.
I wondered aloud about a “next chapter” for a brick-and-mortar camera business, which in our digital age is almost a “living history” site. Dan agreed, noting that according to Bloomberg, the “category of retail stores taking the biggest hit in the last ten years is the camera store with 90% vanishing.” He added: “We started out with 13 people in 2005 and now there’s only Celeste. It just died — the supply chain faded out.” Celeste chimed in: “But we have amazing support from the community — a lot of regulars who refuse to go anywhere else and the big money maker now is digital retouching.”
She paused, then continued: “Film is making a comeback, with the hipsters for example, and we’re the only place in the area that develops it. We offer classes, scenic sites on our website, and repairs for digital and film.”
The business is well supported by the group she calls the Camera Corral alumni.
“There were tons of people offering assistance to set up the new store and move; they helped with the walls, and painting,” she said.
Those “alumni” include some well-known photographers who got their start working at the shop, including Shawn Gust, formerly of The Press and NIBJ, and Kirk Mastin in Seattle.
Dan and Celeste described how they decided to keep the store for the tradition within the community and for those who come to town during the tourist season.
“People walk in a camera store because they are so rare and it takes them back,” Dan noted. “The big thing I will miss moving from the downtown location are the ‘stop in’ neighbors and visitors who come by to chat.”
“Dan supports the schools, advertises in school papers, helps the humane shelter and is the pinnacle of a downtown businessman supporting the community,” Celeste added. “The Camera Corral needs to stay here in Coeur d’Alene to continue on with the film and move forward with what digital is offering.”
Coeur d’Alene is a special place, not because it has a beautiful lake but because of the people who live, work, care about and participate in our community. To get that sense, take the very short trip from downtown up Northwest Boulevard to Harbor Plaza and “stop in” the new iteration of Camera Corral. Along with photographic advice and services, Dan will gladly provide a regional history of the photography business and Celeste just might have a treat for your dog.