Craig store diversifying in the digital age
September 13, 2010
Robert Libbee, owner of Quality Plus One Hour Photo in Craig, opened a cabinet and pulled out a vintage 110-format camera.
"This is a lot like my first camera," Robert said. "My dad bought me one of these when I was a kid."
Times have changed, Robert said. And so has his store.
On Saturday, Quality Plus One Hour Photo hosted a customer appreciation event.
Outside the shop, Robert offered free hamburgers and hotdogs to customers. Inside, he showcased his new products.
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"Photo gifting is going to explode," said Robert, 38. "I've just had so many good comments on it."
Two weeks ago, Robert purchased equipment that allows him to brandish digital photos onto numerous objects. The process creates personalized gifts, Robert said.
To prove his point, Robert walked alongside an array of custom photo-printed mugs, coasters, clocks, ceramic tiles and more.
"We even have can coolers — koozies, or whatever you want to call them," Robert said.
In years past, Robert's store was solely in the business of developing film and prints. But the popularization of digital cameras changed that.
"I still develop film, but it's down from what it once was," Robert said. "It's definitely down."
Rather than try to compete with the popularization of digital images, Robert said he wants to help his customers make better use of them.
"(Robert) has brought the store a long way since he took over," said Kirk Libbee, Robert's father.
The elder Libbee opened the shop in 1996. In 2007, Kirk sold the store to Robert.
"When I (owned the store), it was just film," said Kirk, 63. "Now that digital has hit, (Robert has) taken (the store) beyond that."
The Libbees' involvement in photography began in the 1960s while Kirk served as a welder in the Air Force.
"I was over in Thailand in '67," Kirk said. "The Air Force had pretty good photo labs. It was all done by hand with enlargers and everything."
Kirk said the Asian nation's temples and jungles made good subjects for photography.
When Kirk returned to the U.S., he continued taking and developing photographs.
In 1976, Kirk moved his family from Las Vegas to Craig. Twenty years later, he opened the photo shop.
Despite retiring in 2007, Kirk still takes photos — in both digital and film formats.
"Oh, I go both ways," Kirk said. "If I'm riding a motorcycle, I'll take a digital (camera) with me because it's easier. But if I'm going to go out and shoot wildlife (photos), I'll take my (35 mm Nikon) F5."
A love for wildlife photography was passed down to Kirk's son. The shop is adorned with Robert's photos of elk, burrowing owls and other wild creatures.
"There's something about going out there that's relaxing and fun," Robert said. "You have no choice but to be patient."
Robert said he often hikes on game trails to find his subjects.
"I'll sit down next to a tree and wait to see what comes around," Robert said. "A lot of times I'm more surprised than not."
Wildlife photography is mostly just for fun, Robert said.
"I've been fortunate to get some business (selling wildlife prints), but really it's just my hobby," he said.
As for his main business, Robert is grateful to his customers.
"We're in a crappy economy, but we're still around," Robert said. "The chain stores came (to Craig), but we're still around. Why is that?
"It's because of our loyal customers."