Crown Camera, a Downtown Dynasty, to Close; Key Services will be Offered at Enterprise Location

Gary Engell, 85, has operated his business for 62 years. He’s retiring with fond memories of his thousands of customers. Photos by Jon Lewis.

As a small business owner, Gary Engell joked that he had the “dumbest, stupidest boss in the world.” After 62 years, he’s had enough and has decided to fire himself. His last day will be Saturday.

Yes, Crown Camera, a Redding institution that has been in business since 1957 and anchored at the corner of Market and Tehama streets since 1964, is closing its doors at the end of the month. Engell, 85, is leaving with a smile and fond memories of the thousands of customers he’s befriended over the years.

But Crown Camera’s core—its photo lab and video transfer services—will continue when Theresa Wood, the longtime lab manager, and Engell’s son, Jeff, set up shop at 3168 Bechelli Lane. The two hope to have the business up and running sometime in September.

Jeff Engell and Theresa Wood will continue providing the bulk of Crown Camera’s services at a Bechelli Lane location.

Engell said the new storefront will provide 80 percent of the services Crown Camera has offered, basically everything except selling cameras, lenses and other equipment. Jeff Engell will continue duplicating videos and/or transferring them to DVDs; Wood will handle enlargements, restorations and other custom printing needs as well as helping customers save their digital images to CDs or thumb drives.

“I’m ready for the gang to take over,” Engell said. “It’s a big load and I’ve kind of got old enough. I’m not going to live to 150. We looked up the other day and we’ve been here 62 years. All three of my kids worked in this store at one time. Time went by real quick. I was 55 about three weeks ago.”

Engell started his business in August 1957 in the basement of the Yuba Hotel, next to the Golden Eagle Hotel. “My first contract for rent was a handshake. I figured that was the strongest contract I ever signed,” he said.

Engell had moved to Redding after graduation from San Jose State University. “There are wonderful people in the north state. I came up here at 24, didn’t know tit from tat, and people just drug me in.”

A tireless advocate for Redding and its downtown, Engell was awarded the Redding Chamber of Commerce’s Virgil Covington Award in 2007. He was named Redding Businessman of the Year in 2003.

While reporting to work six days a week through the years, Engell witnessed myriad changes to downtown, including the construction (and subsequent deconstruction) of the downtown mall and the arrival of Shasta College’s Health Sciences Center.

What he’s going to remember most, however, is the people. “It sounds corny, but it’s the generosity of the people. It was always a pleasure dealing with customers. Good ol’ hard-working people.

“They’d come in, a man and a woman, and then they’d come in with their kids, and then those kids would get married and come in with their kids…and they’d only want Gary to handle their film and this type of thing.”

In time, though, 35-milimeter film cameras went the way of rotary phones and cell phones allowed anybody to become a photographer. Big-box retail and then online retailers like Amazon cut deeper into Crown’s sales numbers.

“I can’t blame people,” Engell said, noting the convenience of online shopping and having “a 4- or 5-ounce thing in your pocket that you can take pictures with.”

Jon Lewis

Jon Lewis is a freelance writer living in Redding. He has more than 30 years experience writing for newspapers and magazines. Contact him at jonpaullewis@gmail.com.

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