7/18/10

Between drug stores and Shutterfly there was FOTOMAT


Yes, at one point we even became too lazy to walk into a photography store or the drug store to drop off our film to get it developed. And we hadn't quite reached the laziness of simply uploading our digital images and awaiting the package in the mail. Between all of that there was Fotomat.


For anyone too young to remember Fotomat think of a drive-thru coffee place, but for photos. Little booths out in the middle of parking lots with some lost soul sitting inside with a transistor radio playing, patiently waiting for someone, anyone, to drive-up to drop off film or pick-up prints. And there they sat on rainy days in those little booths by themselves.
Fotomat was a once widespread retail chain of photo development drive-thru kiosks located in shopping center parking lots. Fotomat Corporation was founded by Preston Fleet in San Diego, California, in the 1960s, (the first kiosk was opened in Point Loma, California, in 1965), and became a public company in 1971 and listed on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in 1977. At its peak around 1980 there were over 4,000 Fotomats throughout the United States, primarily in suburban areas. Fotomats were distinctive for their pyramid shaped gold-colored roofs and signs with red-lettering, usually positioned in a large parking area such as a supermarket or shopping mall, as the Fotomat huts required a minimal amount of land and were able to accommodate cars driving up to drop off or pick up film. They sold Kodak-brand film and other photography related products and promised one-day photo finishing. Fotomat often hired female employees to work in the small buildings and called them "Fotomates." The Fotomate uniform was a royal blue and yellow smock top. Male employees were called "Fotomacs" and their uniform was a light blue polo shirt.

Fotomat had both company-owned stores and franchises. This led to lawsuits between Fotomat and its franchisees over territories.
In the early 1980s, Fotomat Corporation was acquired by Konishiroku Photo Industry Ltd., which sold it to Konica Photo Imaging in 1986. It was later sold to Viewpoint Corporation in 2002.

The company's main product, one-day development, was made obsolete by one-hour photo development. Fotomat's main product has since become the online digital photo software site Fotomat.com which, as of July 2009, has announced that it will discontinue the online service on 1 September 2009. Users will still be able to maintain their local albums through the toolbar, though after 1 September all online functions will end. Fotomat's message recommends that online customers switch to the Kodak Gallery service.

Fotomat has made some sparse appearances in American popular culture, namely the well-known hut with the yellow mansard roof. A similar business was ruined in the opening scene of Police Academy, although that photo hut was in the shape of a gigantic camera (to likely avoid an obvious reference). In That '70s Show, Steven Hyde works at the parodied "Fotohut" under his hippie boss Leo. (SOURCE: Wikipedia)
And so it goes. Good idea one day, out of business the next. Innovation. Obsolescence. But the next time you're looking at some vernacular photos at a flea market dating from the 1960s or later stop and think that maybe some poor soul in one of the Fotomat booths once touched them.

7 comments:

  1. Oh my goodness what a blast from the past.
    I completely forgot about these, although I only went there a few times.

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  2. You know I have actually seen some turned into coffee places.

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  3. There is a coffee shop nee' Fotomat here where I live. :-) We went to Fotomat all the time. I think there was a competitor with a similar name.

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  4. I seem to also remember some sort of little booth competition, but can't remember what it was called.

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  5. It reminds us how easy it is for a technological change to wipe out a whole industry in no time at all. What next I wonder?

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  6. Fine post. I don’t think I knew any of that before.

    When I was in high school, my summer job was as an assistant in a small town camera shop. I remember the summer well when we cut the drop-off/pick-up interval for photo finishing from one week to three days and then almost immediately to one day service. Of course that garish new “Color” film had to be “sent off.”

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  7. If anyone has photos of old Fotomat kiosks to share, please upload them to: http://on.fb.me/FotomatDiscussions

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