Photo finish


Joseph and Ann Ott opened a camera shop back in 1948 at Castor and Longshore avenues, and all eight of their children worked there at one time or another.

Today, Bob Ott runs the shop on a property that once included a five-bedroom house where he and his three brothers and four sisters were raised.

“They got real jobs, and I was the last one left,” he said.

The end for Ott’s is near. Bob Ott has been trying to sell the site — which includes a wellness center and state Rep. Mark Cohen’s re-election campaign office — for three years. An agreement has finally been reached.

Settlement is March 18, and the new owner is not expected to operate a camera shop.

Before then, Ott will have a going-out-of-business sale this Friday, Saturday and Sunday. He figured that would be a better way to go out than, say, taking everything to a flea market and accepting 50 cents for a $12 picture frame. Frames will be half-price, and DVDs $1. Ott doesn’t want to pack anything up.

“I’ll mark everything way down,” he said. “I’d rather give customers a better deal.”

For customers who dropped off film and home movies over the years and, for one reason or another, never picked it up, Ott’s has a drawer-full of developed pictures and reels. You have just over a week to pick it up.

“I never threw anything out,” Ott said.

Ott, 69, will see how the sale goes this weekend, then spend a week waiting on regular customers for the final time.

A graduate of Our Lady of Ransom and Father Judge High School, he is looking forward to retirement.

“I’d like to get out while I still feel good,” he said.

The Otts lived on Large Street before relocating to Castor and Longshore.

Cameras were popular when the shop opened, and products continued to improve. The introduction of the one-hour photo developing lab was big.

A 1959 newspaper ad for a Polaroid camera that produced pictures in 60 seconds read, “You’ve seen Don Ameche demonstrate it on TV — Joseph C. Ott has it.” Folks were invited to visit the store or call the telephone number that remains to this day — PI5–8964.

Business continued to flourish, with the Phillie Phanatic coming to Ott’s for a 50th anniversary celebration.

Over the years, Ott’s transitioned from reel films to VHS tapes to compact discs.

One popular feature has been transferring film reels to tapes and discs. Customers love it.

“We’d transfer old home movies onto VHS and DVDs,” Ott said. “You can’t replace those memories.”

In the last decade, two of the most popular services have become photos for passports and gun permits.

“We kept changing after all these years, but we always kept it a camera store,” Ott said.

Today, Ott’s offers photo restoration and sells camera cases and bags, lenses, film, frames, photo albums, batteries and, of course, a variety of cameras. There are also knickknacks, books on tape, music cassettes, CDs, DVDs, VHS tapes, greeting cards and books on Tacony, Lower Northeast Philadelphia and shuttered businesses Gimbels, Wanamaker’s and A&P.

Ott said people seem to like face-to-face customer service.

“We have a little bit of everything,” he said. “The secret is diversifying. You do a little bit of everything and smile a lot. And our prices have always been right.”

Castor Avenue has certainly changed since 1948. The avenue stayed strong into the 1990s.

Now, Ott’s will be gone, along with movie theaters, Singers Appliance, Fleet’s men’s clothing store, Lenny’s Hot Dogs, Movies Unlimited and other venerable shops.

Ott believes the avenue has potential, with trees, trash cans and an active business association a few of the keys to a renewal.

“I think Castor Avenue will come back eventually,” he said.

But for Ott and his camera shop, the time has come to move on. It was his one and only job.

“It hasn’t hit me yet,” he said. “I’ve been so busy cleaning out 68 years of junk that I haven’t sat down and said, ‘Oh my God. It’s the end of an era. It’s really gonna happen.’ There’s a lot of history here.” ••

Ott’s, 6901 Castor Ave., will hold a closeout sale this weekend. Hours are Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Sunday from 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. The store will close for good on Thursday, March 17. Call 215-PI5–8964.

Picture perfect: Bob Ott holds a family photo taken when his father owned Ott’s Camera Shop. MARIA S. YOUNG / TIMES PHOTO

A local focus: Ott’s camera shop, at Castor and Longshore avenues in Castor Gardens, will close on Thursday, March 17. Joseph and Ann Ott opened a camera shop in 1948. Their son, Bob (pictured), has run the store for decades, but will soon retire. MARIA S. YOUNG / TIMES PHOTO