Dunbar: Camera retailer left enduring legacy

Kerrisdale Cameras opened in 1961

Bob Hudson knew the industry was going to be competitive when he opened Kerrisdale Cameras with his mother, Mary, in 1961. That's why the resident of Dunbar, who died Sept. 11, focused on competitive pricing.

"Now it's even crazier," said his daughter and successor Linda, noting competition from big box, national and international retailers.

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The late Hudson started selling cameras when he was a commerce student at the University of B.C. in the 1950s and continued until he died at the age of 79, working at the original Kerrisdale location at West 41st Avenue and Yew Street five days a week.

According to a 1990 interview with a photo industry magazine when he was named Retailer of the Year, Hudson sold cameras at UBC "to break the monotony of classes."

Now the family owns seven shops in Metro Vancouver and Victoria. Kerrisdale Cameras continues to accept trade-ins, but only two shops process film on site as consumers have shifted to digital technology. Fewer customers seek handheld video cameras like they did in 1990. Skiers, mountain bikers and motorcyclists want video cameras they can mount on their helmets, along with waterproof, crush-proof, drop-proof digital SLRs.

Linda says her father was always ahead of the curve. "He was doing Google searches before most people knew what Google was when he'd be looking up camera gear," she said.

Accolades and remembrances from friends and staff have focused on his incredible memory and healthy sense of humour.

One former employee recalled in an email to Linda how Hudson would approach customers: "'Hello Dr. So-and-So, hi, you were in the store in 1965 with a broken Contaflex and you were leaving on a trip to Europe the next day' .As the sale continued, you could sense the customer feeling at home with Bob and the store. Once the sale was done, handshakes all around and you could see the looks on the customers' faces, looks of reassurance their business and loyalty was not only appreciated, but remembered. So goes the legacy of Bob, a man that loved people and loved to close a sale."

Derek Bell, a manager who has been with Kerrisdale Cameras since the 1970s, recalled to the family how sales reps loved visiting him because they left laughing. If Hudson saw promise in a new product he'd give reps thumbs up. "Or he'd make a joke about it and give them the finger," Linda said.

When he wasn't flashing the bird, her father treated everyone with respect. "Our stores aren't fancy, at all. It's more about offering fair and honest service," she said. "That's giving me a better perspective of how to carry the company forward."

More than 40 per cent of the company's 50 staff have worked for the independent chain for more than 10 years.

Photography played a key role in Hudson's personal life, too. His wife Jay, with whom he had four children, suffered with Alzheimer's. Hudson visited her every day in the care home, prompting her failing memory with photos of family in albums and on a DVD. She died in February, still remembering who he was.

Linda only learned after her father's fatal heart attack that he should have had heart surgery, but he elected to forego the operation because it would have kept him from visiting his wife.

crossi@vancourier.com Twitter: @Cheryl_Rossi

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