Fotobar store tries to revive affinity for Polaroid

  • Article by: MATT SEDENSKY , Associated Press
  • Updated: March 4, 2013 - 7:32 PM

The stores will rely on consumers wanting to convert digital photos to memories on paper.

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Polaroid Fotobar founder and CEO Warren Struhl, stood in his Delray Beach, Fla., store on its opening day last Friday. His aim is to reinvigorate the digital world’s interest in print photographs.

Photo: MATT SEDENSKY • Associated Press ,

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— The first in a chain of Polaroid-branded photo shops opened in Florida 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 in Delray Beach. The trick will be to coax consumers who snap pictures on cellphones and other devices to move their memories to 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, for $2,500. All the prints made on-site take the form of original Polaroid photos, with the familiar white border.

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 behind glass 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 of watching their Polaroid camera spit out a floppy print.

As customers began to file into the store, among the first to take a seat at the Fotobar was Jami Bloch, 12, who was uploading photos from Facebook and Instagram. 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 taken by local photographers. Struhl says he’s negotiating at least 10 leases for other Fotobar sites around the country.

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. 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.”

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