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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10 Responses

  1. Avatar Beverly Stafford says:

    Crown had a great run. Start-ups should take lessons from Mr. Engell on how to run a business. Enjoy some well deserved time off, Mr. Engell.

  2. Avatar Peggy Elwood says:

    I will miss Crown Camera downtown…always bought my cameras there and got help with things like tripods and other equipment…have a happy retirement!

  3. Thank you, Gary Engell and Crown Camera, for serving the north state for so many years. Gary, you deserve a break! Enjoy your retirement.

    (I just dropped off some slides the other day, and I’m glad to have one more chance to visit this store before it closes.)

    Thank you, Jon, for this story. It’s nice to see your byline on ANC again. We’ve missed you!

  4. Avatar Candace C says:

    I’ll echo Doni’s sentiments towards Gary, Crown Camera and Jon. My Step-father who’s in his mid 80’s told me just the other day that he was Gary’s very first employee. Enjoy your retirement Gary! (from the “hey kiddo” used- to-be-RS “kid”.)

  5. Avatar Genevieve Deal says:

    This was the only place in Redding in the last few decades that I could get a print from a negative. I purchased my BEST cameras at Crown over the last 40 years and I’m sorry to see it go. Happy retirement!

  6. Avatar Hollis Pickett says:

    Both the author and the owner get it……it’s always about being “in service” on a very personal level….

  7. Avatar Theresa Wood says:

    Thanks to everyone who has supported Crown Camera! Since I started work at Crown Camera in August of 1990 – I have been a big Fan and so proud to be a big part of the customer service Gary so very much valued. He has been like a second Father and a Great Mentor. I am still proud to try and continue at that personal level of customer service and provide Great Photo Services that are needed in our home town of Redding. I truly have loved serving you all! Thanks Again!

  8. Avatar Sue Shine says:

    Thank you Doni/ANC – my wish has been fulfilled. Thank you Jon for another of your inimitable articles. I so much appreciate the quality of the telling about this ‘Dynasty’. Theresa, your Comment is a valuable part of this piece. Thank you so much for sharing, and for your expert work in the Lab. My husband and I have been customers there since the ’70’s. All of you have been quite helpful, friendly, and patient (re my newbie camera questions). Many thanks Gary, enjoy your retirement! Hope you’ve done some rehearsing for this new role.

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