As 2019 draws to a close and a new decade looms ahead, it’s easy to dwell on all the changes happening in Soho. One place however which remained consistent over the decades on a little pedestrian walkway of St Anne’s Court is the camera repair shop, Sendean Cameras. Established in 1926, the camera repair shop has been in the same Soho premises for past 40 years… However things are about to change. It was during a chance meeting with Susie Sheehan, daughter of the late owner Demetrios Demetriou, that I learnt about Sendean Cameras closing the doors of its Soho shop on the 6th December to merge with their Clerkenwell branch.
Tell me a bit about your connection to Soho?
I was 17 or 18 when I started to help out at the shop. It’s my dad’s business. He started this business 40 years ago on this premises, and it’s been going ever since. And then 16 years ago I kind of fell into it. I wasn’t planning on getting into it, but I felt like mum and dad needed a hand in the business so I thought ‘yeah why not’. It doesn’t seem like (Soho’s) changed a whole lot, I don’t know where that time has gone because it’s always been a nice small community around here. In fact we’ve had the same neighbours next door to us either side the whole time that I’ve been here, which is actually quite unique because a lot of people do move on. We’ve got the key shop one side and then the Wacky Barbers the other side. I suppose it’s mainly Oxford Street which has changed quite a lot, where they’re doing the new Tottenham Court Rd station and things like that. But apart from that, once you get into the back streets you’re into a little Soho Village.
Tell us a bit about the shop and the type of people that come in to get their cameras fixed?
You know what London is like, full of quirky people! But that’s what makes it so unique and wonderful that you do have people from all over the world come in. People that have different backgrounds with photography. There’s the professionals and you get a lot of tourists on holiday desperate to get their cameras repaired quickly. So it does attract a whole load of different people – that’s why I love London. It’s diverse and unique in that way.
What’s your take on the transition from film to digital?
At first, we did think it was going to be a huge knock for the company and we almost sold it when that happened. Must have been about 10yrs ago, maybe more. And actually, it wasn’t just that film was changing into digital, it was more that society had changed and that we needed to get ourselves out there in a different way. One of our friends said, “try this – I’ll help you set up a website and see what happens from there.” So we got the website up and running and ever since then, it has been going much better now. We’re out there – people know where to find us. They’ll look up ‘camera repairs’ and we’re there. It’s interesting because we thought it was going to knock a lot, that digital cameras were going to last for ages, or not going to need repairs. But actually it’s the other way round. They break easier and because they are electronic they’s a lot more that could go wrong on them. So actually they still need repairs and there’s a lot of people using that equipment for professional videoing and photography, so we do still have a huge market for that. And then of course, vintage cameras have all come back because of Instagram and social media. It’s quite incredible to see how if you just hold off sometimes, things keep coming, people still want film. Rather than just getting rid of it completely and thinking I’ll just concentrate on digital. It’s interesting to see that transition that it’s still going.
You’ve got some pictures of your dad working in this shop, in this very space we’re having this interview. Can you tell us a bit about him?
Dad was an amazing man. The way he dealt with customers, it was incredible. He always had an amazing love for people anyway. And to see how he dealt with the customers was something I aspired to be like like. Because he showed them so much kindness, gave them time. Something you don’t really see today. My dad was originally from Cyprus and so he had that warmth and friendliness going for him. But then he had a love for people because he used to teach people the Bible. We’re Jehovah’s Witnesses. And that’s another reason why he’d give of himself like that. I always learnt so much from him in that way. When he would talk to the customers they wouldn’t even know he was the manager, because he’d be like he was one of the workers here. Always like “The customer is always right, we look after our customers” that kind of sentiment. We still have customers who come in that remember dad from those days. Some of them say “Can’t believe you’re still here!” “where’s the older guy, the Greek guy?”
What was your dad’s relationship to photography?
Dad always took photos – the house is full of them. But he was never a professional photographer. His role here was the manager, and he used to repair. He taught my brothers to repair and my brother-in-law, and they’re still repairing at our other branch. Mum still does the accounts with my sister. It’s a family business, and often people that mum and dad had met and they were like “this is a lovely person, they can come and work here!”
You shared some sad news, Friday 6th December 2019 is your last day of trade in Soho.
It’s the end of an era for us, it really is. But for a while we’ve been considering merging because we have another store in Clerkenwell which is doing really well and that’s where all the technicians are based. This used to be where the technicians worked, you’d come in and see them working. But now we’ve just turned this into a drop-off point for the last 4 years. So over that time we’ve been considering ‘could we merge?’ We didn’t want to lose the business from this shop, but different things have happened. First of all my dad passed away this year.
So sorry. I didn’t realise it was so recent.
It was about 6 months ago. That changed everything for us. His name was on the lease for one, so we had to change something there. And then we considered ‘is this a good time to simplify everything?’ At first when we told dad the idea of closing the Soho shop he hated it. But actually, in the last few months of his life he did kind of see the benefits and I think he understood there was a lot on for the ones working here. It’s so fragmented when when you have two shops. You want to give a good service to the customers and that was what he was all about. And combining the shops we do feel like we’re going to give a way better service. To be able to go into one place you know that your camera’s there, you’re going to pick it up from there, the technicians are there and you can ask them some questions and see them working… So yeah, it’s come at the right time.
What are some of the things you’re going to miss about Soho?
Definitely our customers here. I know that they probably will come over to the over side. This store has always been a little Aladdin’s cave. People walk in and it’s like they’ve stepped back 20 or 30 years in time. It has that sense that it’s old school, you’ve got cameras everywhere, a little bit of organised chaos going on. And I think the customers do respond to that. It has always been nice that everyone just feels relaxed, it’s a down to earth environment, so I’m going to miss that. Clerkenwell is a bit more well set up. It’s a different vibe, not a bad vibe, it’s just different. So I’m really going to miss that… And obviously shopping on Oxford Street!
Will we see you back in Soho?
Yeah definitely. You can’t beat the coffee shops in Soho. I’ll always bring friends down this way. Sometimes when our friends have visited from overseas I’m always like ‘right, I’ve got to take you to this place in Soho’… There’s loads of cool little places you’ll find nowhere else that’s unique to this area.
And finally, I’m asking everyone that I interview this question; what’s your ‘2020 vision’ for Soho in the next decade?
What I hope to see, and what I think has been very unique over the years, is that you do see the small businesses doing well. They’re still going, I don’t know how, but amazingly. And I would hope that we’d still see those businesses thriving.
After 40 years in Soho, we say goodbye to Sendean Cameras and wish them every success in Clerkenwell.
📍22-23 St Cross Street
Monday to Friday 9am – 5pm
Let us know your thoughts – comment in the box below!
Kai, aka The Soho Girl
p.s I’m #DelightfullyDyslexic – please see beyond any minor spelling errors or let me know in the comment box below!
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