Best Survivor in a Dying Industry

Pro Photo
1902 I St. NW, (202) 223-1292
Photograph by Darrow Montgomery
Camera stores aren’t a good bet in the 21st century. Few consumers these days still need to develop pictures or buy film and photo paper. Big-box stores have cornered the market on digital sales. It’s enough to drive a national chain like Penn Camera, which had two stores in D.C., into bankruptcy. And yet, Pro Photo survives, tucked away on Eye Street behind Pennsylvania Avenue NW for 31 years now. In fact, with its competition dying off, the store is in a pretty good position to stick around even longer.

Credit Pro Photo’s owner, Dickran Baghdassarian, for mastering the adaptation necessary to outlast the competition. Born in Ethiopia, he came to Washington from Addis Ababa in 1970 and worked as a technician for the long-defunct National Camera Company. After nine years, his brother Sebouh joined him, and the two broke off to form their own sales and repair business. These days, Dickran’s daughter Sally works there, too.

The business thrives on repairs. Working with a troubled camera, Baghdassarian looks like a master trainer coaxing along a skittish horse. Sometimes just a light, skillful twist will solve the problem. Alas, as the industry’s changed, Pro Photo has also had to branch out into passport photos, headshots, and high-end merchandise for the colleges and hobbyists who still use the machines. “We do a little bit of this and a little bit of that to keep our heads above water,” Baghdassarian says. “This is a tough business to be in, but we’re still here.”