Jul 26, 2014
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Mom-and-Pop Photo Duo Survives Nearly a Quarter Century

Scott and Diana Schmitt, owners of San Juan Photo & Digital and Accent Portraits by Diana, reflect on their years in the photography business.

Mom-and-Pop Photo Duo Survives Nearly a Quarter Century Mom-and-Pop Photo Duo Survives Nearly a Quarter Century Mom-and-Pop Photo Duo Survives Nearly a Quarter Century

Remember one-hour film developing?

Scott and Diana Schmitt do. They bought the Moto Photo franchise in the Von's center in 1989. These days, they're known as . They've survived a near-quarter century of economic twists and turns and technological advances.

When they first launched their business, they focused on one-hour photo finishing, and there was a small portrait studio in the back of the store. Film was still king.  

They had no idea that the digital revolution was on the horizon.

The couple was young and naive when Diana Schmitt's boss offered to sell them the store. They saw it as an offer they couldn’t refuse. Neither one had any business experience, but they weren't afraid to take a chance.

There was a lot of "flying by the seat of our pants" in the beginning, Diana Schmitt said.

The couple recalls walking in the Swallow’s Day Parade in 1991. A pregnant Diana Schmitt wore a homemade Nikon camera costume. The original kind, without a place to plug in a USB cord.

Scott Schmitt, dressed in a moose costume, pulling a radio flier filled with little girls and baby bunnies. Melting and exhausted by the end, the team quickly forgot their troubles when they brought home a 3-foot-tall trophy.

One day in 1993, they were shocked to find a cease-and-desist order for the portrait studio hanging from the door. The portrait studio had never been added to the Moto Photo lease. The landlord of the center signed an exclusive with another photographer, so their studio had to go, Diana Schmitt said.

Though the photo finishing side of the businesses was bringing in most of the revenue, the couple decided to reopen a studio nearby. Diana Schmitt was disheartened but determined to accept the challenge.  

The studio has turned out to be a blessing, she said. With an established client base, the photo studio has supported the photo-finishing business through changing technologies and a challenging economy.

Moto Photo began with 20 stores in 1982, and today has more than 200 individually-owned locations. However, the Schmitts made the decision to break away from the franchise in 2003. 

Having survived a technical upheaval, the Schmitts are also surviving an economic one. 

Said Diana Schmitt: "I am working harder for less money, but I still have a job and I love it!"

They are very proud of their relationship with the community and their clients, as well as the family they have built with their staff.

"We are grateful for how much we are part of the community," Diana Schmitt said. They happily donate portrait sessions for any charity that asks. They support several pet rescue organizations and always donate a bounce house for San Juan's  concerts. Diana Schmitt also makes free portraits for folks at nearby senior centers.

The Schmitts want to share advice with younger generations who share images all the time, but rarely print them.  

"Once a month you should go through your files and print the top 21 photos – I do things in threes," Diana Schmitt said. "It will cost about $10 a month. Print a 4x6 of each one and date them. Even if you don't put them in albums at least that way you have them."

Of course, "mugs are great, photobooks are great, Facebook is great," but the Schmitts believe that pictures printed with silver, not ink-jet, will last longer than any hard drive or digital storage method. They worry that the next generation will not learn the value of the printed image until they realize they are lost.

Forget celebrities or politicians, Diana Schmitt said her favorite clients are kids.  

"I love kids. Give me a good, giggly set of kids. When they think I'm funny, that's it."

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