Local landmark Kenmore Camera builds new facility

Bob Donovan stands inside the new Kenmore Camera store.  - Sarah Kehoe, Bothell/Kenmore Reporter
Bob Donovan stands inside the new Kenmore Camera store.
— image credit: Sarah Kehoe, Bothell/Kenmore Reporter

Bob Donovan remembers developing photographs with dad, Jim, in a darkroom when he was a child.

"I love photography," Bob said, smiling. "It's always been a part of my life."

Jim started Kenmore Camera in 1974 for photography enthusiasts in a small 528-square-foot store in downtown Kenmore. Today Jim's children, Bob, Scott and Mary, have carried on his legacy by adding more features to the store and continuing to attract a wide variety of customers.

The company has outgrown its current location and will move to a 17,000-square-foot building in Kenmore Village filled with two classrooms, an equipment room, shipping and handling rooms and a sales floor.

The new Kenmore Camera facility will open for customers during the first week of January, with a Grand Opening event happening sometime in February.

"We can't wait to open our doors to the community," Bob said.

The new facility is a far cry from the business's humble beginnings.

"I don't think my dad ever envisioned that Kenmore Camera would become what it is today," Bob said. "He was just focused on what has always been our mission; to deliver great items to our customers and provide excellent service."

The family-owned business is a premier provider of photographic equipment and services. The business is renowned for its extensive training for beginners and professionals, as it has multiple classes offered.

"We were all stepping on each other in the old store, it was just too close of corders," Bob said. "We had to host our classes at a business across the street and our events at a place in Lynwood."

Now, many of its events will take place in this expanded facility in downtown Kenmore. The move will provide more than triple the square footage of the current store, which is just across Northeast 181st Street from the future location.

"This has been more than 20 years in the making," Bob said. "This move will allow us to offer more extensive classes and better serve our customers."

The Kenmore City Council approved a purchase-and-sale agreement on June 11 with Kenmore Camera owners Jim and Martha Donovan for a portion of the Kenmore Village property that has been owned by the city since 2003. The city is selling a 54,000-square-foot piece of property, which includes Kenmore Camera's new facility, formerly occupied by Grocery Outlet. The purchase price was $1,250,000. Through a boundary line adjustment, the city will retain 15,000 square feet of frontage on Northeast 181st Street from the original parcel.

Council members see this agreement as an important step in downtown redevelopment and supporting the expansion of a strong local business.

"We welcome this investment because it will benefit downtown redevelopment goals, which have been the focus of community interest and discussion over many years — and it ensures the long-term presence of an important Kenmore business,” said Mayor David Baker.

The city was engaged in a Disposition and Development Agreement with Urban Partners (later known as RECP/UP Kenmore, LP) for redevelopment of the 9.6-acre Kenmore Village property from 2007 to March 2012, when the parties mutually agreed to end the agreement. The Kenmore Camera agreement stipulates cooperation and coordination with future redevelopment to achieve a smooth function and fit between the properties.

"The city has been so great to work with," Bob said. "They believed in our vision for the store and have been extremely supportive. We are really grateful that we were able to stay in Kenmore with our new facility, because we love this community; it is our home. "

Bob believes it is the personal touch his staff provides and the quality of the cameras they sell that has made Kenmore Camera thrive in the midst of a struggling economy and new technology, such as iPhone cameras.

"There's a place for iPhone cameras and cameras similar to that," Bob said. "And I believe that place is limited for photographers because those cameras don't allow you to control light and those lenses are very small; it is more for casual use, like uploading to the internet. When people come to us, they want more than that."

Bob pointed out most customers coming to the shop want to use their cameras to take pictures of a specific hobby.

"We get everyone from the mom that wants to take a picture of her kids playing sports to the hiker wanting to captures moments on the trails," Bob said. "And we talk to them about what they want to use the camera for and find the perfect fit for them."

Kenmore Camera works closely with vendors and gets new products before most stores.

"Vendors trust us because we offer training, so the customers will know how to use the cameras they get, which is very important to the manufacturers," he said. "So with our training and relationship with the manufacturers, I feel we don't compete with the big guys, they compete with us."


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