During Geoff Tooton’s years at the helm of the family business, Tooton’s Photography, from 1979 to 1995 — and well before the advent of digital photography — when time allowed he would make an effort to get behind the counter at one of their stores.
One of his greatest thrills when doing so was to witness the happiness on customers’ faces when they picked up their processed prints.
“What was always so rewarding was when people would open the envelope and smile and occasionally a tear would come to their eye, but it was a wonderful emotional connection with our customers,” says Tooton, noting that many of those moments occurred in January with people collecting Christmas photos.
“We were selling them cameras and film, but they were buying memories, and to see them respond to those memories was a great source of joy and pleasure.”
The Telegram asked Tooton to reflect on the Christmas season and the family business in tandem with a special commemorative reprint of a copy of The Evening Telegram from Dec. 24, 1917, included in this edition of The Weekend Telegram.
Among the pages are a number of advertisements for local companies, including Tooton’s: The Kodak Store, as it was known prior to Confederation.
Tooton’s own Christmas memories surrounding the business go back to the 1950s and 1960s, when he was but a boy visiting his grandfather, Anthony, who founded the company, and his father, Ray, at work.
“It was magical,” he says of the days before the Avalon Mall, when Water Street was the commercial and retail hub not just for the city, but for the entire province.
Once Remembrance Day passed, retailers went all out to decorate their shops and display windows, and he can clearly recall large spruce bough wreaths hanging from the walls inside his grandfather’s shop.
“You’d walk in and get this immediate smell of the trees with the lights and the colour, and the windows would have been decorated to the nines and all the showcases would have had cotton balls laid out on them,” he recounts.
“Then along the street everybody was doing the equivalent of that.”
If you could get down the street to see them, that is.
“That Christmas selling season on Water Street was almost gridlock, both in the stores, on the sidewalks and on the streets. It was a really busy place, an exciting place.”
Another distinct and treasured memory would be listening to CJON and following announcer Bob Lewis as he visited area orphanages to present a cheque or donation on behalf of Anthony Tooton.
Tooton wasn’t familiar with the ad that appeared in the 1917 edition of The Evening Telegram, but it made him think back to the Kodak marketing campaign called Open Me First, which ran over two decades and was used often by his grandfather.
“The idea was, ‘open this because there’s a camera inside that will capture you opening the rest.’”
Christmas was always quite a boon for the Tootons. It represented their highest concentration of sales of cameras, accessories, movie cameras and the like.
“Then post Christmas there would be a lot of photo finishing to do on the service side of the business. The first two or three weeks of January were pretty intense in terms of the volumes of film coming through,” says Tooton.
“It was a win-win-win: it was the emotional pleasure of doing those things, their emotional pleasure and the financial compensation for what we were doing that gave us a business that lasted 90 years.”