When a customer called ahead and said he was planning to propose to his girlfriend in this photo booth, Anthony slowed the booth’s timer by a couple of seconds so the guy would have enough time to get the ring out. Who wants to bet they’ll have a photo booth at their wedding?
Anthony Vizzari and his wife, Andrea, didn’t plan to open a vintage camera shop. The couple own and run the successful 312photobooth company and needed an office space near their Oak Park home in 2010. (In August 2012, the shop moved to Chicago’s West Town ’hood.) “We thought it’d be nice to have a few cameras up for sale,” says Anthony, an avid collector of old-school cameras. The small selection of cameras grew into a display area that now fills most of the space and last year became a full-fledged store. “You start as the collector and the collector usually ends up becoming the dealer,” he says. “It was an organic development.”
Not to mention perfect timing. As camera-phone apps such as Instagram (which lets you make your photos look as if they were taken in 1977) become more popular, more people are becoming interested in retro cameras and film. “It’s funny, [those apps] are trying to re-create what these cameras actually do,” Anthony says. Adds Andrea, “Those appshave increased the appreciation for that whole analogue aesthetic.”
A wall of Polaroid cameras proves the art form isn’t dead. And the store’s collaboration with the Impossible Project (which saved the last Polaroid production plant and found new ways to produce instant film materials) means shoppers have access to film that works in Polaroid cameras. Anthony says a lot of people come into the shop for the Impossible instant film, then gravitate toward the other vintage merch.
A&A is all about new lives for these relics. The store holds monthly workshops featuring demonstrations of new ways to use vintage cameras. For example, one get-together showed customers hacks for using 35mm film in a 126 cartridge. And even if you have no interest in taking pictures, a lot of these retro cameras could be used as cool dorm-room decor items.
Another draw to the store are the classic photo booths. A&A refurbishes and makes vintage-looking photo booths that can be found everywhere from the Empty Bottle to a photo-booth exhibit in Switzerland. The store features three working booths, and many folks stop in for a quick $3 photo session. One couple even got engaged in the booth. “People always hang onto their photo-booth strips,” Andrea says. “These [photo booths and cameras] are all about the experience, and then you get to keep a great photo.”