Kent Hallander, whose family has owned Photo Cullen in Montclair for nearly a half century, predicted that today’s young people will regret their dependence on cellphone photos when they get older. Those digital images will likely be lost, hence unable to jog memories about both good and bad times.

“There’s going to be an awful lot of people, millennials particularly, who when they reach my age are all of a sudden going to realize that they don’t have any record of their trip through life because all the stuff they stored on the web or on a hard drive or what have you has disappeared,” said Hallander, who is 81.

“It’s unfortunate but that’s the way it is. Pictures were a way of connecting with the past and that’s rapidly disappearing.”

The demise of print photographs, and the rise of the digital selfie, has led to the end of many mom-and-pop camera shops, with Photo Cullen being the latest casualty. Last week Hallander hung a sign on his store on Valley Road saying it was going out of business Dec. 30.

Other local photo and camera shops “have already folded,” according to Hallander.

“There are very few left in North Jersey,” he said.

Photo Cullen
Photo Cullen on Valley Road last week posted a sign saying that its days were numbered. ADAM ANIK/FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL

This week Hallander remained at his Upper Montclair business, keeping the doors open in hopes of selling as much of his camera equipment as he can at bargain prices, 50 percent off or more, and still taking orders to develop and print photos.

The Photo Cullen business was started by the Cullen family in 1882, launched in the Ironbound section of Newark, Hallander said. The Cullens moved their shop to Montclair sometime in the 1920s, according to Hallander. His parents, Elvin and Vivian Hallander, bought the store in 1959, and at that time it was on Bloomfield Avenue, Hallander said.

In 1967 the Hallanders purchased what is now the Talbots’ building on Valley Road, a structure that they restored, and moved their photo shop there. Hallander’s mother sold that building, and the new owner bought out Photo Cullen’s lease in 1990, according to Hallander. That year the photo shop moved to its current location at 551 Valley Road, less than a block down the street.

In its heyday the Montclair shop sold cameras and other gear, developed and processed photographs, and restored old ones. But cellphones were the death knell for retailers like Photo Cullen.

“The camera phones killed it more than anything,” Hallander said. “People are taking pictures on camera phones but they’re not committing anything to paper. And prints were always the bread and butter for a camera store. There aren’t many of them left.”

People are just not printing their cellphone photos, he said.

“People using digital cameras sometimes have prints made,” Hallander said. “But people with camera phones seldom do ... The rest commit them to the cloud or store them. So for the past 17 years I’ve existed by restoring old photographs. And I probably will continue that from my home.”

During the past three or four years, once-brisk camera sales also “died off” because people were now using their phones to take photographs, according to Hallander. Some people now also turn to large consumer electronic retailers, like Best Buy, or go online to places like Amazon to purchase digital camera gear.

Hallander has been running the business himself since 1980, and the work dictated his garb. He sports Western-style bolo ties, and said he has a collection of more than 100. He started wearing them about 20 years ago when the traditional ties he used to wear would get stuck in his photo-processing machinery.

Photo Cullen has been at its current Valley Road site since 1990, and was previously located at the building where Talbots women's clothing store is now. ADAM ANIK/FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL
Photo Cullen has been at its current Valley Road site since 1990, and was previously located at the building where Talbots women's clothing store is now. ADAM ANIK/FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL

Photo Cullen most recently had just one employee, who would only work two hours a week so Hallander could go to his doctor’s appointments. With all that has happened, the rise of the digital age, Hallander decided to retire.

“I’m 81 years old,” he said. “It’s time.”

This past Saturday Hallander said he had many customers looking at his on-sale merchandise.

“I have a lot of tripods and a lot of bags,” he said.

He has to be out of the store by Jan. 15. and he plans to junk anything still left at that time.

On Tuesday Codi Haigey came into Photo Cullen with a disposable camera that she had used to take photos on New Year’s Eve. She wanted the shots developed and printed.

“It’s terrible,” Haigey said to Hallander about the shop’s closing.

A millennial, she said she would stop in the shop every few months to have photos developed. Hallander warned her that her undeveloped cellphone photos “are going to be long gone” when she gets old.

“Film is strictly an art form now,” he said. “It’s not something that is a necessity for people because they are all using digital. It’s unfortunate but that’s the way it is.”