Norwich - The photo-processing business isn't what it used to be, but that's OK with Carl Abissi of Cooper's Imaging, who has managed to survive a digital-driven downturn by keeping his eye on service and turning to niche markets.
With everyone these days posting cell phone photos instantly to Facebook, the idea of dropping film to be developed at a photo lab has become a quaint memory. But as other photo labs went out of business, stung by decreased demand and competition with pharmacy and department-store instant processing, Abissi embraced the digital age and expanded his offerings.
"We are still a true photo lab - we are not a gifting company, with mugs, puzzles and T-shirts - and that's hard to find now," said Abissi, a Woodstock resident. "We've outlasted (nearly) everyone else because we are a true photo lab. We still do services others don't want to do."
These services include processing black-and-white and slide film.
"Our black-and-white business is actually growing," Abissi said.
Professional photographers and the general public enjoy the personal attention they get on both regular processing and enlargements, Abissi said.
"Every image is looked at and adjusted by a human being for color, density and contrast, if needed," he said.
The photo lab, which Abissi said produces an average of 25,000 prints a day, also isn't afraid to tackle unusual jobs, such as printing X-rays for doctors, restoring heirloom photos, converting old home movies to digital format, creating large-format prints on archival-quality paper and producing photos from 19th century glass-plate photographs for museums. Services such as business portraits and products including canvas wraps - photos that are given a three-dimensional look by placing them on a canvas - add to the mix.
One of Abissi's most recent projects involves digitizing a leather-bound 1864 catalog.
Abissi said product shoots are another sizable portion of his business. Gesturing toward a separate room where a watermelon stood ready for a photographic session highlighting an industrial chopper, Abissi said many of the shoots are designed to generate buzz on social media sites.
Photographing products has its own challenges, but Abissi cracks a smile as he points out that one aspect is easier: "They don't talk to you."
While other labs fell behind in their technological capabilities, Cooper's Imaging - started by Norm and Betty Cooper in 1991 and purchased by Abissi in 2000 - has always prided itself on staying ahead of the curve.
"The amount of information that goes through this building is astronomical," Abissi said.
Before Internet photo services such as Snapfish and Shutterfly, nearly all of Cooper's Imaging business was walk-in, but now the action has moved online, and customers at its 3,200-square-foot store on West Town Street - built as a photo lab a decade ago - come in a trickle, accounting for significantly less than half the business.
"They're very helpful," said Shannon Reynolds, a longtime customer from Montville who came in to process family photos. "Carl even came to my house one time when I was having trouble downloading (photos)."
The five photo lab employees fill various niches, but they all wait on customers and answer the phone, giving advice about what to expect from a processing job. Many people don't realize that some camera phones will not reproduce a high-quality image, especially if enlarged too much, Abissi said.
"That's the problem with the industry - customers expecting one thing and getting another," Abissi said.
Abissi said customers are known to bring in shoeboxes full of old prints to be digitized, knowing that their memories will be safe with Cooper's Imaging. And, while they're at it, they often order a few more copies of special images they can hold in their hands or place in scrapbooks, never sure if those photos sent to the Internet cloud will always be there.
"The only true way to keep a photo forever is a photographic print," Abissi said.