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Consumers buy new, cheaper cameras instead of fixing existing ones

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Precision Camera Repair owner Victor Martens is closing his shop because people would sooner buy a new camera than fix an old one. It means Computech will be the only independent camera-repair shop in the city.

KEN GIGLIOTTI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Precision Camera Repair owner Victor Martens is closing his shop because people would sooner buy a new camera than fix an old one. It means Computech will be the only independent camera-repair shop in the city. Photo Store

The relentless shift to cheaper, throw-away consumer products has driven a stake through the heart of one of Winnipeg's last few camera repair shops.

Precision Camera Repair Ltd. is closing its Sherbrook Street store early next month after more than 25 years in business.

"You can blame Walmart for putting so much pressure on (camera) manufacturers to bring prices down," owner Victor Martens said Tuesday in his half-empty shop at 70 Sherbrook St.

Martens said not only did it drive down the price of popular point-and-shoot cameras so it's cheaper to replace them than to fix them, it also forced manufacturers to do their own warranty repairs rather than farm it out to independent repair shops such as Precision.

"That's when things started to turn," he said.

Precision's pending demise will leave only one independent camera repair shop -- Computech Camera Repair -- still standing. And coincidentally, it's located only about a block down the street, at 119 Sherbrook St.

Computech owner Ron Bart admitted he was shocked when Martens called him last week to say he was packing it in.

'You can blame Walmart for putting so much pressure on (camera) manufacturers to bring prices down'

But he probably shouldn't have been surprised.

Bart said camera repair shops have been dropping like flies all across the country in recent years.

He said when Precision closes, Computech will be the last camera-repair shop between Toronto and Vancouver.

That's bad news for local camera owners and camera stores such as Don's Photo, which sends all of its non-warranty repair work to either Precision or Computech.

"It's going to leave us with one fewer option," said Damian Bilinsky, Don's manager of information and communication.

And it's also going mean longer waits for the repair work to get done.

"We're lucky we still have Computech here," Bilinsky said, "because if we didn't, we'd have to ship everything out of province."

Bart said Computech will survive because it's already picking up some of Precision's business.

He's also reduced his staff to three from 11 in the last five years to reduce his operating costs.

"We've leaned out and we're more efficient."

Another recent, but encouraging trend, is that camera prices have dropped to the point where more consumers can afford to buy better quality cameras, he said.

For example, a digital single lens reflex camera that used to cost $1,500 can now be had for as little as $500 to $600, and Bart said those cameras are worth repairing.

Unfortunately, that's too little too late for Martens, who also drastically reduced his staff and diversified into other kinds of repair work. But it wasn't enough.

Martens said the decision to pull the plug didn't come easy.

He was still in high school when he got a summer job 25 years ago with Precision.

That turned into a full-time technician's job, and when the owner retired 16 years ago, he bought the company from him.

"It's something that's been in my blood forever," he said, "but the problem is you have to feed your family."

He said he and his wife Christy plan to open a door and window store -- Access Window & Door Design Centre -- at the same location. They'd been selling the products part-time for the last two or three years, and see the potential to turn it into a full-time business.

"This (the decision to close Precision) will create the time and the place for that to now happen," Martens said.

"I will definitely miss (repairing cameras)," he added. "But I won't regret leaving it, I don't think."

 

murray.mcneill@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 19, 2013 B4

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Updated on Wednesday, June 19, 2013 at 7:07 AM CDT: replaces photo, changes cutline

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