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Remembering Ray’s Cameras and Cameras Et Cetera

with 4 comments

Remembering Ray’s Cameras and Cameras Et Cetera.

Written by J. R. Hudson

February 5, 2011 at 11:55 PM

Remembering Ray’s Cameras and Cameras Et Cetera

with 2 comments

35mm Cameras in Case
Cameras in case at Cameras Et Cetera, South Sound Center, Lacey, Washington, 1972

Once upon a time, when film was the only medium for pictures for the masses, when German cameras were pushed out in favor of Japanese cameras, there was a little camera-store chain in Puget Sound called Ray’s Cameras. 

Ray’s Camera started as a small town camera store in Puyallup, Washington. Lyman K. Raymond, the store’s owner, had his store on Meridian, Puyallup’s main north-south street in Puyallup’s downtown core. By 1970 he had opened stores in the area’s three laregest malls.

Seattle, which was home of the 1962 World’s Fair with Century 21 (the future) as the theme, was home to the first regional shopping center defined as a mall. Ray’s Cameras stores were in the Northgate, Southcenter, and Tacoma Malls, in addition to smaller shopping centers; most notably Puyallup’s Hi Ho Shopping Center. He was enjoying a regional monopoly of the area’s largest traffic retail spaces of the time.

My girlfriend worked at Ray’s Cameras in the Hi Ho Shopping Center in Puyallup. At the end of the day when the center was closing, she had to count out the money taken in and balance against the cash register. She could do this but I started helping her with the process. She agreed that I had a better aptitude for closing out so she told L. K. Raymond (Ray) about me and asked if he would be interested in hiring me which he did.

Mr. Raymond brought me into his original store in downtown Puyallup to ship inventory around to the malls. He had long lists of requests for inventory from each of the store managers that he apparantly had a hard time filling. The area managers were asking for the latest Japanese-made cameras but he wanted me to move out the older European-made equipment. It was a balancing act though I supported the managers requests as best I could with both European and Japanese-made equipment.

The European cameras were Leica, Contax, Hassleblad, Rollei; and the Japanese cameras competing with them were Pentax, Nikon, Mamiya, Yashica, and Canon. Ray’s european stock was getting old, the Japanese cameras were newer and priced more competitively. It would have been a camera collector’s dream to be where I was at this time.

Mr. Raymond assigned me back to Hi Ho. My girlfriend and I poured our efforts into this little store. It was “our” pride and joy and our livelihood. She was still in high school and I was one year out. One night after cashing our paychecks, we covered her family’s livingroom carpet with $20 bills. Each of us living with our families still had little in the way of expenses so we were very comfortable with our incomes.

Pictures of each other
Ray’s Cameras, Hi Ho Shopping Center, Puyallup, Washington, 1971

As I was working one afternoon a gentleman with a notepad was walking around the store taking notes. I was curious and, like I would do with anyone visiting, I asked him if he was interested in anything. He responded, “I’m thinking about buying it.” I asked, “What?” He responded, “The store.” My response was, “I wish you luck!” There were signs that Mr. Raymond was losing interest in his stores plus I was not too surprised that someone would take an interest in them considering the locations in which he held leases.

Phil Swygart, the man with the notepad, was a Vice President of Wayne’s Photofinishing in Chehalis, Washington. Wayne’s was a photofinishing plant serving most all the camera stores, drugstores, and grocery stores that took in film for processing throughout the Pacific Northwest. One of their products was “Wayne’s Bonus Photo” which provided one regular three-and-a-half-inch photo plus a smaller tear-out print to give to friends and family. Wayne’s had the backing needed to purchase the chain of Ray’s Cameras which they did and renamed them “Cameras Et Cetera”.

Cameras Et Cetera Southcenter Mall
Cameras Et Cetera, Southcenter Mall, Tukwila, Washington, 1973

I was an assistant manager at Cameras Et Cetera at the SouthCenter Mall store, then a store manager in Lacey’s South Sound Center Mall near Olympia. My team doubled the sales from the earlier year which impressed Phil Swygart (I then worked directly under his son Vic Swygart) and was moved to their busiest store at Southcenter Mall.

Anyway, all of this is now history. Cameras Et Cetera was bought by Kits Cameras, who was eventually bought by Ritz Cameras which was finally dissolved. I went on to manage a high volume photographic dealership in Washington, Jafco at Southcenter. Jafco was bought by Modern Merchandising which was bought by Best, then eventually dissolved.


Busy day selling at Jafco, Southcenter, Tukwila, Washington 1977 (J. R. on right)

There was little information on this past on the web so I felt that it was important to share this history. The period in this documentary covered the decade from 1970-1979.

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