Hardly a day goes by that someone doesn’t point out the changes, improvements and updates going on around us. As we strive to become more modern, I’m reminded that the Petaluma of today is not what it was 10, 25, or 50 years ago. Since we no longer need telephone operators, typewriters and full-service gas station attendants — and nobody I know is having a TV antenna mounted on their roof for their black and white television — we welcome most of these changes.
Despite such innovations and improvements, other changes aren’t as welcome.
Townsfolk, including myself, are lamenting the passing of yet another local victim of modern technology. Camera Corner, a longtime downtown business, was located at historically prominent 1 Main St. (Petaluma Boulevard North) since 1950. Camera Corner became Shutterbug Camera Shop in 1997, but to many longtime residents, it remained Camera Corner until its recent closing.
The primary culprit behind the demise of camera stores is the evolution of the cellphone, which replaced both still and video cameras. In the digital age, we no longer rely on film, photo processing or enlargements, which were the staples of the store’s survival.
Dave Minner, who first worked at, then owned and operated Camera Corner/Shutterbug, witnessed the transformation first hand. When he began working there, rolls of film, flashbulbs and home movie cameras and projectors were in demand. A native San Franciscan, Minner was raised in the Sunset District where he delivered the News-Call Bulletin, collected seat cushions after baseball games at Seals Stadium and played basketball and golf at Sacred Heart High School. An interest in law enforcement led him to the police academy and a job as a San Francisco policeman in 1971.
Minner and his wife, Margie, moved to Petaluma in 1975, which he said was “like moving to the dark side of the moon” for folks raised in the City. They soon came to enjoy their new hometown, the community where they raised the four children, Christopher, Joe, Emily and Jenny. A part-time wedding photographer, Minner began shooting weddings in town and made friends with Dave Brainerd, owner of the Camera Corner. After a back injury forced him into early retirement, and when Brainerd indicated he wanted to sell the store, Minner took over ownership in 1982.
First opened as Wagar’s Camera Corner in 1950, the store was sold to former two-term Petaluma city councilman Brainerd in 1954. Brainerd is remembered for recommending the use of “wooden nickels” during Petaluma’s centennial celebration, the building of the Petaluma Pool, and his solid support for a town square and his donation of property towards building downtown’s Golden Concourse. His daughter, Lyne Erving, told of the days when customers would buy new vacation cameras and then return with 50-60 rolls of film for processing. Petaluma Camera Club and Petaluma Cinema Club held meetings in the store’s back room, which also served as a hangout where civic leaders, newspaper photographers and local luminaries would sit and chew the fat.
While film processing remained a significant source of income, Minner increased the inventory, stocking a wider variety of photographic supplies and accessories. He kept the Camera Corner tradition of offering expert camera and photo advice.
“We loved Petaluma’s small-town atmosphere, which made us a part of the community. We met so many good people. It was a treasure,” Minner said. “With a wider selection we did really well. I lucked out. When the first electronic cameras came in, everyone had to have one. Initially they were expensive, but as quality improved, the price came down. Photography was booming and I enjoyed being at the store. We did fantastic business for about eight years.”