It was one of the best jobs I ever had.
It wasn't perfect—no job ever is—but I enjoyed showing up, enjoyed my co-workers (not all of them—we can't like everybody), enjoyed dealing with my customers, who were, on the whole, good to deal with. But it was retail, and you couldn't please everybody, and some customers liked to complain.
But for the most part, it was a store for hobbyists, for photographers who wanted to acquire good equipment at a good price, who wanted to have their photos produced to the best quality that technology offered, that they wanted to buy frames in which to display their best photographs.
I loved photography, so when I was not serving a customer, I was learning about the features and capabilities of the newest cameras. I read about photo techniques, so that I could show customers how to get the most out of their cameras, how to get the most enjoyment out of their hobby.
I would review photos with customers, when they wanted to share, and help determine why a photo did not turn out as expected. Some customers, who were proud of a particular shot, would show me and tell me how he or she obtained the results, so that I could try it out and further improve my knowledge.
Some customers became friends. We would socialize after hours, would attend events with our cameras and share in some memories.
Before she was my mother-in-law, before I was even dating her daughter, my wife's mom was a regular customer, dropping off her rolls of film for development.
Some customers were strange, would take the oddest photos, would take nude selfies and then give me copies (I didn't keep them).
My co-workers and I had many laughs. We were dedicated to our work, but we knew how to have fun in executing our duties. I remember when Martin Short was our spokesperson, and we had a life-sized cutout of the comedian to greet the customers as they entered the store. When the mall manager made off with the cutout, I stood in Short's place for a few minutes, mimicking his pose, until I finally chased down the thief. She had him in her office, next to her desk, with several helium balloons tied to him. She was trying to see if she could make Martin Short fly.
We would spray ice-cold, compressed air into empty plastic film cannisters, snap on the lids, and hide them around the store, where they would pop open with a loud bang as the air warmed and expanded. It was great fun when an unsuspecting employee was standing next to one of these miniature time bombs when they went off.
Some of those who stood shoulder-to-shoulder at the film counter remain as good friends. Even after I left, I remained a loyal customer, kept in touch with so many colleagues. While I loved that job, I had other ambitions, other wants, and while my time at Black's Cameras was richly rewarding, it would never make me rich. I left for a better-paying job, and ultimately on a path that took me to where I am today (I'm still not rich, but my desire to write overcame my desire to sell cameras and film).
I owe my time at Black's to learning strong skills in dealing with the public and to having strong sales skills. I had a great mentor—indeed, great mentors—who made me a better person. What I learned about photography in those years helped shape the photographer I am, and I'm constantly remembering and applying techniques that I learned on-the-job.
When I learned that Black's Cameras will be closing all of its doors in August, I felt a pang of sadness. I remembered so many great memories that I felt I could write a book. I remembered faces of customers—Wilma, Mr. Yhap, Mr. Gold, Brian. I thought of the wonderful people who I worked with—Cesar, Graeme, Jim, Tony, Laura, Pia, Wendy, Joe, John, Steve, Ron, Rick, and of course, my good friend, Marc. There are so many more people who came and went, and I remember them, too. From the Merivale Mall store to the two in the St. Laurent Shopping Centre, to the stores where I helped out from time to time—Bayshore, Carlingwood, and Baseline at Fisher.
It's the end of an era. I started as a part-time employee, became a full-time staff member, an assistant manager at two stores, before I returned to part-time status, and eventually, casual. I enjoyed that job, no matter my level of responsibility.
And I will always have my memories.