Around 50 friends of Peter Michael, including suppliers, employees and business associates, came together at Docklands last week to farewell Michaels Camera Video Digital as a business, and the Michael family: Peter and Fruma, and their children Carly and David.
The landmark Elizabeth Street photography business closed earlier this year.
The event was organised by another Victorian-based Australian business, lighting and accessory supplier PROtog.
‘This is the end of two eras,’ Peter Michael noted at the dinner. ‘The first is the Michael family trading in the same location since 1916 – so over 100 years. The second is that we’ve had a store which has played a significant role in many aspects of camera specialty since the 1960s.
‘- Which just happens to be two years less than my age,’ he added.
He paid tribute to his wife Fruma for her consistent support through his time with Michaels and acknowledged his father Alan, grandfather Harold and great grandfather Emanuel, the founder of ‘Michaels Corner’.
Peter also acknowledged the contribution and calibre of Michael’s employees over the years, without whom, he said, the business would never have achieved anywhere near what it had.
‘So this is the conclusion of a very long tradition. A tradition which owes a lot to all those staff who worked with us over the years. A huge thank you to all our staff past and present.’
He explained that the Michael children would remain in the industry. David will continue to run the well-established equipment rental department of Michaels, while Carly has set up Photo Genie, a business dedicated to helping people organise their photos – from slides, prints and Super 8 through to image files on smartphones – into an accessible collection.
The centrpiece of the evening (see below) was a video featuring long time Elizabeth Street competitor Richard Robertson (Ted’s Cameras), Jeff Crowley (Fujifilm), John Swainston (Maxwell Optical, Nikon Australia) and Tony Steele (ProTOG, Canon).
John Swainston referred back to the 100th Anniversary event at Michaels in 2016.
‘At that stage,’ he said, ‘it was hard to dispute that this was a business which had reached the status of one of the great retailers of the world,’ he said.
Richard Robertson painted a colourful picture of Elizabeth Street in its heyday, rattling off a list of around 20 camera stores which operated along ‘Blood Alley’.
‘With all that competition, the key things were service and price. And that’s where Michaels excelled,’ he said. So much so that the store was named PMA Photo Retailer of the Year three times – a record never achieved by other Australian photo specialty retailers.
‘Competition for Michaels has never been just about retail pricing,’ said John Swainston. ‘It was an overall experience long before long before most people even knew what customer experience retailing was about. Whether it was the web, in store, or click-and-collect innovation has been the name of the game.
‘And while the business always exhibited quality and innovation, you Peter on a personal level maintained a level of friendship and engagement that I valued enormously.
‘The shape of the building, an icon in Melbourne will remind us in years to come of an era of excellence we don’t see very often.
‘It’s always tough to know the right time to leave or to sell. You closed your shopfront when your reputation as a great retailer had never been higher…The Michaels name will remain an icon in photography for decades to come,’ John concluded.
While Michaels has closed as a photographic business, the Michael family continues to own the building on the corner of Elizabeth and Little Lonsdale Streets.
‘The Michael family will continue to trade from this iconic location in the future,’ Peter Michael said at the time he announced the decision to close the business. ‘However, not as retailers, but back to our roots – as landlords.’
Michaels provided advertising support to Inside Imaging and our earlier websites for over a decade. We would be naive to think this was integral to the company’s marketing plans! It was rather a substantial gesture of support from Peter Michael, who saw that the industry could benefit from a publication of record, particularly after the demise of PMA and IDEA. We will always be grateful for Peter’s characteristically discrete vote of confidence and encouragement.