Flash Photo to shutter its doors after 25 years of photography service

Phil Spencer says he’ll miss his clients

For 25 years, Phil Spencer has staffed his small photo shop in the heart of town, developing pictures, taking passport photos and dispensing advice.

When he walks out the door at Flash Photo at the end of the day on Friday, however, he won’t be coming back.

It’s been a tough go the last couple of years, he said. The recession has had an impact. He hasn’t taken a paycheck in quite some time.

But what made him decide it was time to shutter his shop for good was Sony’s announcement last month that it would no longer make the paper or ribbon he uses in his two digital kiosks.

An upgrade to new machines would cost between $10,000 and $15,000, he said.

“That’s a big investment for a company that’s already paying to keep its doors open,” he said.

It’ll be a big change, Spencer acknowledged last week. “I’ve been behind this black counter for 25 years.”

At the same time, he added, he’s looking forward to a break from running a business that has sometimes kept him awake at night and that hasn’t turned a profit in three years. He also feels confident he’ll find a new direction.

“I have a wonderful wife and daughter and a lot of good friends,” he said. “I’ll make it. Something will come up.”

Spencer started working at the shop when he was 22 years old, then bought it two years later. Since then, he’s transitioned the shop with the times, moving out of traditional film developing when digital hit the scene and adding a few services to keep customers coming in the door.

These days, he provides quality digital photo services, he says. His shop is also a UPS pick-up and drop-off site and the only place on Vashon where one can get a passport photo. And as a life-long Islander, he’s the go-to guy on any number of Vashon issues.

“I’m a wealth of information for this community,” he said, smiling amiably. “I’m a fixture here.”

He has many loyal customers, some of whom have been coming to the shop since he started training there in 1985, and he knows they’ll miss him.

“It’ll bother me to lock that door for good,” he said.

But even with a loyal customer base, he doesn’t have the foot traffic to make his business profitable, he said. Quality digital printing is a service some can’t afford as they struggle to pay the mortgage or rent each month, he said.

“I’m that extra couple of bucks that they don’t have,” he said. “I’m not bitter at all. I completely understand why people don’t come here.”

At the same time, he said, he has a feeling people will be sorry to see his shop shuttered up for good.

“When the economy recovers, they’re going to miss me,” he predicted.