DELRAY BEACH, Fla. – The first in a chain of Polaroid-branded photo shops opened here Friday, with its backers hoping to reinvigorate the digital world’s interest in printed images by capitalizing on an iconic name.
Polaroid Fotobar aims to tap into unprecedented interest in photography with its inaugural 2,000-square-foot store. The trick will be to coax consumers who snap pictures on cellphones and other devices to give their memories new life on paper.
“Maybe it’s on a smartphone, maybe it’s on Instagram, maybe it’s on Facebook,” said Warren Struhl, the founder and CEO of Fotobar. “But digital is not permanent. Physical is permanent.”
In the glistening new store, customers can pay a visit to the bar where “fototenders” will assist in wireless uploads of photos. From there, a visitor can purchase prints made on-site, or order products sporting their images on canvas, metal, bamboo and other materials.
The cheapest item is a $1 print replicating a traditional Polaroid, though the purchase requires a minimum of six. The priciest product is a 7-foot-by-4-foot, 150-pound slab of acrylic with a customer’s image on it, running $2,500. All of the prints made on-site take the form of the original Polaroid, in varying sizes, with its familiar white border. It is thicker, at 1.2 millimeters, and sturdier, but is instantly recognizable.
Struhl says he has heard time and again that photography’s transition to digital has brought “a pain point” for people, who feel a sense of guilt that their images may reside on a hard drive but not in a frame.
“It makes them sad,” he contends. “Most people are afraid they’re going to lose that favorite picture on top of the fact that they wish it was up on a shelf.”
Whether that is true, and whether it drives people into Struhl’s stores will determine the fate of the Fotobar. But even some with deep nostalgia for the Polaroid brand wonder how the business will fare in a digital world.
Phillip Block of the International Center of Photography said he grew up with Polaroids and is “thrilled that anyone is interested in picturemaking and the physical print.” But he said digital cameras have replicated the immediate gratification and emotional impact people experienced when their Polaroid camera spit out a floppy print.
Polaroid cameras were the ultimate in convenience, he said, and “anything other than that is a step backwards.”
But as customers began to file in, there was no sign of discontent. Among the first to take a seat at the Fotobar was Jami Bloch, 12, who was uploading photos from her Facebook and Instagram accounts. She frequently takes photos on her iPhone but never has them printed.
“You can actually like see them,” she said of the prints, “it’s actually like real.”
Besides offering a sleek, sparkling white atmosphere, the store also has a studio that will offer free classes, host parties and allow customers to come in for portraits with local photographers. Struhl says he’s negotiating at least 10 leases for other Fotobar sites and expects new locations may open elsewhere in Florida, in New York, Boston and Las Vegas, in the next year.
Customers can also find refurbished Polaroid cameras selling for $159.95 and eight-packs of film for $29.95.
Polaroid itself, which pioneered instant photography, ultimately went bankrupt and doesn’t produce its iconic cameras or film anymore. Film compatible with old Polaroid cameras is now manufactured by The Impossible Project. Polaroid is paid for the use of its name on the stores through a licensing agreement. Fotobar is owned by Struhl and other investors.
Fotobar faces competition from chain drugstores and other retail sites that allow customers to print their digital pictures, not to mention an array of websites that will deliver prints without someone ever having to leave their computer.
Struhl insists Fotobar is different, though.
“Four-by-six prints are available lots of places,” he said. “We’re the only place that makes Polaroids.”