Gitchell’s Photography Celebrates 100 Years

Emmy -- April 10th, 2009


We’ve been talking a lot about business laying off workers or shutting down completely. So, in a time where businesses seem to be failing left and right it’s nice to hear about one that is thriving. Gitchell’s Photography is celebrating its 100th anniversary this month. Not only have they been in business for 100 years, but the business has always been owned and operated by a member of the Gitchell’s family. Brothers John and Frank Gitchell opened the first studio in Charlottesville in 1909. During that same year, they opened a second location in Harrisonburg. In 1951 John Gitchell Jr. joined the business, and in 1954 he purchased the current location. Then, in 1979 his daughter Christa Gitchell joined him at the studio, and in 1986 she became the owner. So how does a business last for 100 years, and what changes over the course of that time? I spoke with the current owner Christa about the success of Gitchell’s.

What was the transition from film to digital like for you? “Very tough! I had used film for 25 years. I had a system and I was scared of changing that system. I didn’t understand digital and I was afraid of change. When digital first came out the quality wasn’t that great so I stuck with film until the quality improved. Now we don’t use film for anything.

About that time Bruce, my husband, was ready to move from his job and loved being here. I had an employee I was ready to get rid of, so I had Bruce come here and that has taken a ton of stress off of me because he takes so much work off of my shoulders. He’s very creative with the pictures after they’ve been taken. I don’t think people realize everything that we can do here.”

If your grandfather John were still alive, is there anything that would be the same for him about the business? “Customer service. That hasn’t changed over the course of the years. You have to love people to be in this business.”

What would be different for him? “Technology. We can do things now that we never could before. We can restore old photos using Photoshop to make them new again. We can e-mail a customer their wedding album so that they can look through it and make changes without having to come into the store.”

Did you always know that you would take over the family business, or is this something that just happened? “I fell into it. I was nursing school. My father’s health got bad and I came in to help him. His health never got any better so I never looked back. It gets in your blood.”

What is your favorite part of this job? “The kids. I love to shoot preschools because they’re so much fun. I enjoy being my own boss and setting my own schedule.”

What is your least favorite part? “Sitting in front of the computer. I don’t like it when it gets so busy that it becomes overwhelming. I like to be busy, but not so busy that I don’t have any time off and that’s about 8 months out of the year. I’ve become used to it but I don’t like working every single weekend. When I have a day off on the weekend I’m selfish about spending time with my family. I just don’t get much time off. When I go to the beach I take my camera, but I don’t take pictures. It gets old being the professional photographer everywhere I go.”

Why do you think it has lasted for 100 years? “A lot of hard work, stubbornness and pride. The business has hurdled many financial obstacles over the years but it’s always survived. People trust the name. We’ve been in business a long time and people trust us because we don’t rip people off. I’ll bend over backwards to fix a mistake. We’ll put a child into a photo that couldn’t be at the shoot. I’ll make sure a kid has a picture of himself. I don’t like for any child to feel left out because life is tough enough. We try to make a living not a killing. A good product for a fair price is what my father used to say. People want to preserve their memories. They have always wanted to do that and it doesn’t change.”

What services do you offer? “We still process black and white film by hand. We do color film as well. We do weddings, portraits, sports photography, preschools, restorations, photo books, converting slides to DVD and prints, convert prints and negatives to digital.

We stopped selling camera equipment when digital came around because the technology changes too quickly and I started losing money on the equipment I had. I threw out thousands of dollars in film camera accessories as well.”

What do you think the future is? “My children aren’t interested in photography on this level. I’m hoping my grandson will move into it. He already loves to take pictures. He loves going with me to take pictures and he’s already learning how I do things. I think he could be the one – I’m hoping.”

On May 1st, 2009 Gitchell’s will be having its 100th anniversary celebration. They want you to come by the studio and bring in one of your favorite photos taken by Gitchell’s. You’ll receive a free 5X7 of that picture as their anniversary gift to you. They also want you to share your stories with them about events that Gitchell’s was a part of.

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18 Responses to “Gitchell’s Photography Celebrates 100 Years”

  1. Thanh says:

    Cool post Emmy. Congrats to Christa and Gitchell’s Photography!

  2. Sarah says:

    Congratulations, Christa and Gitchell’s Photography!

  3. Renee says:

    Wow, Congrats, Gitchell’s! Great local story!

  4. Frank J Witt says:

    I had an old Confirmation picture of my group from back in 1974 that had been crumpled and all but destroyed. I had the fortune of meeting Christa and once I showed her the photo she promised it could be saved…and was it ever ! She did such a wonderful job I sent my mom the new photo and she couldn’t believe how original it looked. You could even see that “shady” little smile I always wear.

    Thank you Christa and Bruce, you are good people and Congrats on 100 years, may the good Lord provide you and your family 100 + more.

    Have a Happy Easter weekend.

  5. BANDIT says:

    No doubt in my mind how hard y’all work…see you in a few weeks for our ” Farm League” pictures.
    Hope y’all have a WONDERFUL weekend.

  6. Lowell says:

    What a nice feature article Emmy. Very well considered and done.

    And Congratulations Christa and Bruce, we wish you much and continued success.

    Lowell, Dianne, and the girls.

  7. Proud of my sister and her extremely cool and talented husband!!

  8. republitarian says:

    I’m disappointed Christa didn’t share with us about the hard times, that paved the way for the good. It’s the struggles that make a successful business.

    Christa, could you share with us some of the difficulties you’ve faced and any stories from the past?

  9. BANDIT says:

    My guess is Christa would rather focus on the positives and hard work that got her where she is today. Some of the HARD TIMES could be personal and not enjoyable to relive.
    Hopefully, all of us can learn from our past and keep going forward.

  10. Christa says:

    Thanks Emmy for writing this piece about the business. I have so much to thank you for…your friendship and support mean everything to me.
    Bandit, you are so right about focusing on the positive, but it is the hard times my family has faced that humble me. I feel sure no one on here wants to hear all my family drama, as I’m sure everyone has their own. Myron, if you would like to be bored with this drama, I will be happy to sit down and tell you all the sorted ugly details. It is quite a story to hear. My father once told me…honey, if you keep looking over your shoulder at the past, you will surely never be able to move forward. He was a good man and a great photographer who made some huge mistakes. I wish I knew what he had already forgotten. I miss him terribly and wish he were here with me to celebrate his fathers and his lifelong accomplishments. I stand humbled in their shadows and can only hope I will be remembered as they are.

  11. republitarian says:

    Christa, I know some of the struggles and thought sharing those might encourage some of the other readers in these trying times.

  12. Penny says:

    I came across and old photo at a yard sale, maybe law school or something dated 1927/1928. Information on the back of it as to who the men are. Does any one know if there is any value to this?

  13. JGFitzgerald says:

    Maybe not the kind of value you’re thinking about. But if you can find the family it came from, you’ll have made friends for life.

  14. Christa says:

    I don’t think there is any monetary value to it Penny, but if you bring it in the store sometime, I would love to take a look at it.

  15. Penny says:

    I have tried looking up a few of the names on google. No luck yet, I plan to still spend more time doing it. I wish I knew if it was a law school or college or what, it might be more help. I think through some research you are in VA? or up that way. I am in Floriday. I might could email you a copy if you wish Christa. Look forward to hearing from you.

  16. Christa says:

    Sounds great Penny. I may or may not be able to help you but I would love to see the picture. Years ago, my grandfather took pictures at VMI, where he went to school and Randolph Macon, where my father went to school. Don’t know if the picture is at one of those schools or not, but it could be. I know there are many pictures and postcards that my father and grandfather took on Ebay. The Clerk of the Court here bought a postcard on Ebay of the Old Harrisonburg Courthouse and brought it to me. My father had photographed it.

  17. Penny says:

    Hi Christa, I would be glad to email the picture. I just need a email address. If you are uncomfortable posting it here, mine is I pick up stuff at yardsales to list on ebay, and thats how I acquired the picture. I think it is facinating. It is I believe a 10×13 and is an all male school or college. Just not sure what or where. I look forward to hearing from you again. Below the men in the picture is Gitchells 27-28.

  18. Christa says:

    Thanks Penny, I just sent you an e-mail!

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