Down to the basics


PITTSFIELD -- Mark Swirsky gets out of his chair to shake hands with a visitor.

"Quite a difference," he says.

Yes, quite.

Swirsky’s father, Gordon, founded The Photo Shop when he was 17 in 1950 and the business has remained in the family for 64 years. It was located at 81 East St. for 62 years. The store had become as much a part of that neighborhood as the Berkshire County Courthouse complex, which is located directly across the street.

It isn’t anymore.

Swirsky greeted his visitor last week at The Photo Shop’s new and smaller location at 123 Elm St. Deciding to move the shop out of downtown Pittsfield was something the son of the store’s founder believed was right for the business.

Changes in the industry in recent years had caused Swirsky to downsize leaving him with empty space on East Street that he could no longer fill.

And, more recently, issues with downtown parking -- Swirsky said the number of parking places that his customers utilized had dropped from seven to four -- had made it harder for people to visit him.

"The space outsized me," Swirsky said. "Fine-tuning my business over the last five or 10 years, eliminating a lot of the things that became sort of instinct, dinosaurs of the industry," he said, citing film processing, darkrooms, and the selling of cameras as examples.

"I just needed to figure out what I wanted to focus my direction more on," he said.

Swirsky said the Elm Street space, which contains 200 square feet, is more suitable for the interests that Swirsky wants to pursue, which include family photography, weddings, and digital and photographic services, like custom printing.

The East Street store, which is currently for rent, according to Swirsky, contained around 900 square feet.

"I had so much space empty," he said. "The photo lab equipment for doing one-hour photos literally took up half the space in the store. When I sold that six years ago, it left a void of space that I converted into a photo studio. But I prefer doing my photography outside in natural venues, so it just became more space than I had needed for quite awhile.

"I truly loved being downtown as part of all that," he added. "But the traffic flow and the parking situation, which had been a problem for several years, just got worse."

Swirsky said the number of parking spaces outside his store began to shrink after a new median divider was erected on East Street.

"Now, I have a couple of dozen spots within a block in front of my shop on both sides, and a parking lot behind my store that probably has 20 spaces," he said.

Swirsky chose Elm Street over other city sites because he was familiar with the area.

"I grew up in the area; I drive past it every day," he said. "It just seems busy and active. I’ve known most of the merchants around here for years, and I wanted to get into a trafficky busy area that was not remote."

Swirsky said he had thought about moving from East Street two or three years ago, but put it off until his lease ran out at the end of June.

The Photo Shop’s whole history has been tied in with downtown Pittsfield -- the business was originally located on 26 South St. Swirsky said there was a lot of "emotion" and "sentimentality" associated with him moving the business from East Street.

"But it was a decision I wanted to make, and had to make at the same time," he said. "It’s funny, the day I decided to try and find another place this was the first place I saw.

"Everything I wanted I brought over," he said. "I actually have extra space for storage."


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