60 YEARS ON THE BOULEVARD CAMERA SHOP KEEPS CLICKING ALONG IN VALLEY.
STUDIO CITY - Inside the Camera Exchange on Ventura Boulevard, customers get a snapshot of what life in the San Fernando Valley was like 60 years ago, when the store first opened on a dusty lot.
Behind a glass case on a crowded wall is a display of ancient, boxy cameras from the German factory where 84-year-old owner Bernie Thorsch did his apprenticeship. Lining the walls are faded photos.
Over the decades, Ventura Boulevard - just outside - has developed into a glossy, Kodak-color version of the strip where Thorsch first set up shop in 1944. Now sandwiched between couture boutiques, Starbucks and Banana Republic, the cramped quarters and laid-back feel inside the Camera Exchange is like a still from a different era.
``I've seen many, many stores come and go, including other camera shops,'' said Thorsch, who still reports to work every day despite a disease that has taken away 90 percent of his vision.
``Besides my vision, I'm as healthy as anyone else. I have a routine I follow.''
The sense of the past is everywhere. Customers are loyal to the shop and employees have been around for years.
``It's really an antique store,'' said Jolanta Bresson, laughing, one of the many employees who've been with the store for about 15 years.
The pictures lining the walls - many of Thorsch's travels years ago to Afghanistan and West Africa - are as varied as the many older shops nestled along Ventura, each with its own storied history. Places such as Carney's Hot Dogs and the Flask also continue to draw loyal clients despite the rise and fall of countless business ventures on the strip.
Just up the block, the Sportsmen's Lodge Hotel is a year shy of its 60th anniversary. The iconic Valley hotel has played host to countless bar mitzvahs and weddings as the boulevard has grown up through the decades. Like the Camera Exchange, however, the hotel hasn't changed much, said the Lodge's manager, Alfredo Reyes.
``There have been renovations, but it's still basically the original building,'' Reyes said.
That's part of the allure of the Camera Exchange, said employee Steven Sylbers. Not much changes at the store.
``Our employees don't turn over as often as at chain stores,'' said Sylbers, who has been with the store for 14 years.
That's the average - another employee, Diane Wallach, said she has been with the store for ``oh, thirty-something years.''
``I just can't get anyone to quit,'' Thorsch said. ``They come and they just stay.''
So do the longtime locals, who form the base for places such as the Lodge and Camera Exchange, said Jack Kyser, chief economist for the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp. It's the relationships between these neighborhood clients and longtime stores that create a sense of tightknit communities, he said.
``It gives lie to the fact that Los Angeles is this big, empty place,'' Kyser said.
Thorsch's history, like those of many Southern California small-business owners, stretches back to immigrant beginnings.
He grew up in Switzerland and Germany and arrived in the United States in 1938 when he was 18; he became a citizen just a few years later and joined the U.S. Army.
His attraction to the camera wasn't coincidental. Thorsch began his career apprenticing at his father's camera factory in Dresden, Germany.
``I learned the trade the hard way,'' he said. ``I learned how to file metal properly and did all the intricate, low-level work.''
It looks like the Camera Exchange is still a family affair.
For the past 15 years, Thorsch's son Ron, 50, has overseen the store and will probably take over when Thorsch retires.
For now, Thorsch said, he has no desire to expand or open new locations, despite the Camera's Exchange's steady success.
``This place keeps me busy. I don't need to go looking for more trouble,'' he said.
Candice Choi, (818) 713-3634
(1 -- 2 -- color) Above, the Camera Exchange as it looked in the 1950s; in 2004, at left, the shop appears much the same, while neighboring businesses have changed and palm trees popped up along Ventura Boulevard.
(3 -- color) THORSCH
(4 -- color) Bernie Thorsch, 84, inspects an antique camera at the Studio City shop he's owned since 1944.
Andy Holzman/Staff Photographer
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|Publication:||Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)|
|Date:||Sep 14, 2004|
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