Long Exposure: Shutter Closes On Photo Cullen In Upper Montclair


With classical music resonating throughout the cozy store, Photo Cullen owner Kent Hallander sat at his computer, intently focused on fixing a photo from a slide that was drastically under exposed.

Hallander’s Photo Cullen on Valley Road in Upper Montclair will permanently close on January 15, but he still wants to help as many customers as he can before the 135-year-old business officially shuts its doors.

“A lot of specialty stores have gone under in last two or three years and I’m just the latest one,” Hallander said while continuing work. “There’s only a few left.”

Photo Cullen was first established in the Ironbound section of Newark in 1882 by the Cullen family; they eventually moved the business to Montclair in the 1920s. In 1959, Hallander’s parents purchased the business and he began working there a year later after getting out of the Air Force. In 1967 the Hallander’s bought the building where Talbots sits now and ran the store from there until 1990 when it moved to its current location at 551 Valley Road.

“My father died in 1969 and my mother and I ran it from then on,” he said. “Then my mother retired in 1980 and I’ve had it ever since.”

Photo Cullen has been a treasure in the streets of Upper Montclair, specializing in restoring prints, transferring audio tapes to DVDs and CDs, selling high-quality cameras and even producing custom black and white prints from negatives until about 1988, when the store switched into digital photography.

Up until the advent of (cellphones), we were doing alright, it was the (cellphone) more than any other thing that killed us,” Hallander said, “because I figure that less than 1,000th of 1 percent of photographs that are done on phones are actually committed to paper. People aren’t buying what they used to buy from photographic stores, they’re buying online and what have you.”

It’s for this reason that he thinks many people will come to regret their decision to not put pictures to print.

“Even the young people have seen albums and so forth and it doesn’t seem to resonate with them that having (pictures) on their phone or on a hard-drive on their computer or on the cloud is not the same thing,” he said. “Sooner or later, they’re all going to disappear… because of change of ownership.”

The community has expressed sorrow that the store is closing, he said, however business was too slow to keep the doors open and with Hallander being 81-years-old, he decided it was time to for the journey to conclude.

Still, Hallander hopes to continue operating with photo restoration and custom prints out of his own home, but that remains to be determined.

As Hallander has just under a week to clear out the store, he is selling all of his inventory for at least 50 percent off, which includes a wide selection of tripods, frames and gadget bags and backpacks.

“I have a lot of customers that have purchased prints from me over the years and I’ve had very few that have been unhappy about it,” Hallander said. “I’m sorry that I have to close the store, but it’s been too much of a drag on everything for at least a year and a half to two years and I’ve reached the end of my rope, so to speak.”

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