It’s going to be a dour Christmas at the Hudson house. Dour because the Hudsons are closing Hudson Camera, a family business and a landmark in downtown Portland, Maine for over 80 years. From Kodak Brownies sold to young soldiers shipping out to distant war zones to vacationers looking for a digital point-and-shoot, Hudson Camera has served the Portland community with a simple motto, “We’ll help you capture those precious moments.” But faced with declining sales in a moribund economy, the Hudsons had no choice but to close. “We held out as long as we could,” says River Hudson, the 5th generation owner of Hudson Camera. “I grew up behind the counter, helping dad sell a Pentax Spotmatic to a young Stephen King. We sponsor the Little League, are active members of the Rotary Club and Chamber of Commerce, and every November give away a free turkey with every purchase over $200. And when times were good, we gave people that spent under $200 get a Cornish game hen. Now that’s all over.”
Some of the last customers in the shop are near tears. Jean Eyre has been a customer for over 30 years, “I used to come here with my dad to get our vacation photos developed. And as a teen I worked here, developing other peoples’ vacation photos. Oh the memories that were processed here!” And Pete Zaria is just as nostalgic, “I hitchhiked to California and back when I was 18, just me and an old Minolta. Oh, all the pictures I had of now famous people doing illegal things! I got them developed right here!”
The scene is quite different on the other side of the continent, in Seattle, Washington, where Amazon executives are celebrating the closing of Hudson Camera with champagne and cronuts. A sign draped across the wall of the conference room says it all, “We Got the Bastards, Finally!” With a supply chain and fulfillment operation unlike anything the world has ever seen, Amazon has followed a ruthless, scorched earth policy of running charming, helpful, customer-friendly, small camera shops out of business. “We hate the little f*ckers,” exclaims Chad Worthington, Vice President of Camera Sales, “for years they’ve been making sales that are rightfully ours. We’ve been freakin’ ordained by the God of free market capitalism to crush the competition, and like the sign says,” Worthington spins around drunkily to point at the sign, “We Got the Bastards, Finally!”
It’s closing time at Hudson Camera, the last closing time. The last customer walks out the door into a dusky winter evening, the bell attached to the hinge tinkling one last time. One by one, River Hudson flicks the row of light switches, like he’s done a thousand times before. First the lights over the counter. Then the right side of the store and left side of the store go dark in turn. There’s not much left on the shelves, some plasticky photo albums, some picture frames; he’ll finish cleaning up tomorrow. Then he shuts the lights in the nearly barren window display, and finally, the outside lights, including the neon sign over the entrance. River Hudson puts on his knit cap, walks out the front door one final time, and makes his final exit.