In less than two weeks, if all goes according to plan, Central Camera will be back in business on Wabash Avenue, right next door to where the store served its customers for more than 90 years.
“I just want to move on,” said Albert D. Flesch, known to his customers as Don. “I just want to start all over. I want to get it going.”
Central Camera, formerly located at 230 S. Wabash, was destroyed by a fire that began on May 30 during protests following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25. The legendary shop, founded in 1899, plans to open in the space just next door at the site of the former Kramer’s Health Foods, which closed in 2017.
“Although this is a tough time for the store, it doesn’t compare to the loss of George Floyd’s life and the countless other Black lives lost,” the business posted on its GoFundMe page. “We stand with the African American community in solidarity.”
On the day the store burned, Flesch stood across the street watching. He said he wasn’t angry or discouraged. He wanted to focus on rebuilding the camera shop, which moved to the Wabash site in 1929.
“I want to promote the street again,” Flesch said. “In the old days on Wabash it was a specialty street for certain kinds of businesses,” he added, referring to neighboring businesses on Wabash such as Flax Art & Frame, Iwan Ries & Co. tobacco shop and Exchequer Restaurant & Pub.
In addition to the damage that took place during the Floyd protests, Wabash Avenue businesses have also been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Let’s think about that, what did the pandemic do?” Flesch asked. “It kept people away from things and it kept them in their own environment. Once you got into our environment… you could focus on what we had to teach you or what we had to sell you and what you wanted to buy.”
Flesch said he has been buoyed by the support from customers and the downtown community. The GoFundMe page, created by his daughter, has raised $220,148 so far, according to the website.
Flesch, 72, said his secret for keeping a positive attitude is saying to himself, “Yes I can, then yes I will. That gets you through the morning … What gets you through the day is people.”