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Michaels a camera store no more

Michaels Camera Video and Digital, ‘the largest single camera store in the Southern Hemisphere’, will close its doors permanently on Friday, January 8.

The Michael family look on at the 100th Anniversary commemorative photo of the Michaels Building, when celebrating with photo industry colleagues from around Australia on October 13, 2016. More than 200 invited guests  helped the family mark the rare retailing milestone. (Photo courtesy John Swainston.)

‘After 38 years full-time in our industry, I am sadly advising that I am retiring,’ managing director Peter Michael told Inside Imaging. ‘This was inevitable, but the pandemic has prompted my earlier retirement.’

In an article in the Melbourne Age, Peter said customer numbers were 80 per cent down on pre-lockdown levels and the pause placed on the return of office workers to the CBD in January week showed the end of social restrictions was uncertain.

The film processing operation at Michaels closed late last year, perhaps an early sign of where things were heading.

The Michael family owns 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,’ said Peter. ‘However, not as retailers, but back to our roots – as landlords.

‘Our family has traded from this location since 1916, this is 105 years,’ he explained. ‘Originally as a pawnbroker and a gunsmith located in the corner on the ground floor, whilst leasing the remainder of the building to others. My grandfather transformed the business to being  a pharmacy in 1925, my father joined him in 1950 also as a pharmacist.

‘In 1976 my father transformed our business into a dedicated camera business. I commenced in 1983. Within a few years it was my task to clear the first floor which had been leased to a restaurant. We finally occupied the whole building.’

Malcolm Kennedy, who heads up the family-owned, Melbourne-based photo equipment distributor CR Kennedy & Co, noted: ‘It’s very sad that Michaels, such an intmichaels-colouregral part of Melbourne and one of the great camera stores of the world, will be no more.’

After January 8, Michaels will continue to trade for a time directly online and via Ebay. It’s expected Michaels will cease trading as a camera business by around the end of the first quarter – online trading will be to clear existing stock.

‘All amounts owed to our suppliers company will be settled in full as they always have been, and all staff entitlements will be paid in full,’ said Peter.

He said that finding new tenants was ‘a work in progress’.

It’s hoped the Michaels Camera Museum, the largest collection of classic cameras in Australia and one of the great world collections, will find a home in the Melbourne Museum.

Michaels in 1918 - two years after it's construction by the first generation Emanuel. Michaels
Michaels in 1918 – two years after it’s construction by the first generation Emanuel Michael. (Source: Michaels)
Michaels pharmacy interior in the 1950s with a young Alan Michael behind the counter.
Michaels pharmacy interior in the 1950s with a young Alan Michael, Peter’s father,  behind the counter. (Source: Michaels)
- Same day processing in the 1930s.
– Same day processing in the 1930s! (Source: Michaels)
Michaels during WWII
Michaels during WWII. (Source: Michaels)


  1. Rob Heim Rob Heim January 7, 2021

    A landmark business that touched everyone in the photographic industry over the past fifty years. The great retail wars of the seventy & eighties are legend. Thank you the Michaels family for all the memories. Enjoy your new life.

  2. Andy McCourt Andy McCourt January 14, 2021

    I have very fond memories of doing business with Michaels in the late 70s and into the 80s (Hanimex and Levinsons/Elmay). Always honourable and straightforward. This is one business and family that can hold its head high for its contribution to the photographic industry and education (remember the free courses?) – and also the way in which they are winding down in a structured and pay-all-debts way.
    Happy trails folks!

  3. Tony Steele Tony Steele January 18, 2021

    It is hard to believe that Michaels will no longer be part of the industry that i have been part of for most of my life. The Michaels family has always been a great supporter of the industry as I can attest to personally. It was great to work with all the generations from Alan to Tony, Peter & Robin (The origin of the TOPERO business name where the first 2 letters of each of the sons was used) and then finally with David and Carly. I appreciate all that you have done for the industry from your exceptional service to your lunchtime training sessions. It was great to be part of the journey and I hope that all your future endeavours go well.

    • Chris Culpepper Chris Culpepper January 20, 2021

      Sad indeed, an absolute loss to photographics, but pragmatic during these challenging times.

      My first day of a career in the industry was marked by a training session on my first day at Michaels, hosted by the always excellent Mr Tony. Steele.

      Thank you Michaels… and so many others

  4. john rule john rule January 18, 2021

    Truly a sad day for the Photo Industry, especially for those us who are still around. A true Land Mark In Melbourne , that has touch us all. THE land mark Camera Store not only in AU, but in the Southern Hemisphere! I’ve had a lot do with our Industry over the last 10 plus years in other countries such as NZ, Singapore & HK. Also seen a number in EU as guest and NOT one has come close to Michaels!
    More importantly, a great family who loved the industry with a great infectious passion for the “magic of Photography”. It was always good to see the next generation being groomed with such passion & enthusiasm of the business, like the Parents & Grand parents. I knew Alan as student in the late 80’s, then as rep in the 90’s – direct, fair & focused. Peter a true gentleman of the industry and a man of his word, who would always supported the industry as a whole for the betterment of all. The Camera Museum, another great Landmark and unique in the world. A reflection of the Michael’s family dedication (they could of easily leased a floor for a good rate) but chose to put back into the Industry. I for one will miss them. Guys, hold your head high as your achievements are legendary, that will remain with us all. It’s been a honor. Best rgds John

  5. Alan Small Alan Small January 19, 2021

    The world has delivered many shocks to us all in the last year or two , but I was deeply shocked
    at the closing of Michaels. It had become a Melbourne institution which, in all of our minds, was always going to be there. The industry will miss Michaels. Many years ago I worked with the late Alan Michael
    (Peter’s father) as Camera House evolved. I was later honoured and privileged to be the foundation chairman of the re-born Camera House as we know it today.
    There is never a single reason for anything, but one of the factors would certainly have been created
    by the major suppliers who have spent years removing the profitability of photo retailing and in doing
    so, damaged themselves. One major blamed ‘phones for the downturn – but that is nonsense.
    The future of the photo industry is balanced on a knife edge due to sheer lack of experience and foresight on the part of the major camera makers; the sale of the Olympus photo division after almost 100-years is a pointer.
    Such retailers as Michaels will not return – it is the end of an era for Melbourne.

    Alan Small -Taree.

  6. Jim Nicholls Jim Nicholls January 20, 2021

    As a veteran industry imaging customer I can only concur with the sentiments expressed above. I found Michaels to be superb supply partner. Totally efficient, helpful and reliable. Wandering around their museum section was always an intriguing delight and demonstrated a real passion for the industry. This also extended to support for professional imaging organisations and of course many hosted exhibitions promoting local photographers.

    This is a real loss for everyone in the imaging industry.

    I can only thank Peter Michaels and his family for their support over the years and wish them the very best in their future endeavors…. because they deserve it!

  7. Nexus Nexus January 28, 2021

    This is a huge loss – like many loses in the industry. I also feel for the staff who’ve lost their jobs during a horrible time with the pandemic. It really is end of an era and very sad.

    Yet I cannot help but recall how Michaels were dragged kicking and screaming into the internet age. For many years their website was clearly grudgingly done – they refused to publish prices! You had to phone or go into the store to find out cost of things. Even Vanbar (and that horribly designed website) had ability to buy online.

  8. Peter Bruce Peter Bruce February 23, 2021

    I was the Rep for Olympus aka R Gunz and so;d to micheals. Sad to see them go. Times are a changing.
    Now after 20 as a photographer in Hollywood i live in beautiful Cleveland Hts Ohio. What a change… History

  9. Marc Collister Marc Collister January 15, 2022

    I bought my first camera, a Praktica , from Michaels back in the late 70’s when I was a uni student . I still remember the friendly service and very helpful staff starting me out on my passion for wildlife photography. Sad to see them go. Thanks for the wonderful memory.

  10. Glenn Glenn June 26, 2022

    Honestly, I am not surprised.

    Although, Michaels had a great range and showcased an enormous range of photographic equipment. Their approach to customer service, uncompetitive pricing and lack of online presence was their undoing.

    Do get me wrong, as an experienced amateur photographer, I loved getting my hands on the products in store, but time and time again, I would ask for a price and the price given over the counter was dearer than any competitor – not just online, but their competitors in the same street. I even laughed once when the monotone salesman dropped a price of 25% more than anywhere. An as many people visited the store at any given time, I always found the customer service was out of touch and almost desensitised by the shear number of people browsing the products. I would try to avoid the sales people.

    You don’t need to have a shopfront to make it in this industry, but you do need an online presence…and unfortunately, for someone who uses both, this was downfall of Michaels I believe. Never in a Google search for camera gear, did Michaels come up. Nearly all others competitors embraced online shopping.

    Sad as it is, we have list an icon, but hopefully it’s a lesson for others that invest in moving with the times

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