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Central Camera (Pic: Phil Roeder)
The historic store has been operating since 1899 (Pic: Phil Roeder)

The owner of Chicago’s 121-year-old Central Camera has vowed to rebuild the shop after it was badly damaged during riots and looting on Saturday night (30 May).

The violence came amid a weekend of protests around the US in the wake of the death of an African-American man, George Floyd, in police custody in Minneapolis. His death sparked protests and violence there which spread around the country.

The store’s owner Don Flesch – the grandson of the original owner – told CBS Chicago the store was looted before being set ablaze.

But he vowed the store – a Chicago icon with its huge neon sign, and with a museum’s worth of historic photographica inside – would rebuild.

“I’m going to rebuild and make it just as good or better, so I’m not depressed at all,” he said. “We lost inventory, no lives were lost.”

Flesch said he had taken pictures of the store being looted before the fire started, but had not gone into the store to try and stop the thefts because of safety concerns.

During an interview with CBS Chicago’s Charlie De Mar, Flesch was philosophical about the damage to the store.

“It’s what’s going on, it’s reality so you deal with it,” he said. “It’s that simple.”

A GoFundMe campaign has been set up, and already attracted more than $15,000 of the $250,000 with a few hours.

Flesch added that he was able to pull one item out of the store’s front window which had been ignored by looters – the first camera his grandfather had sold when he opened the store in 1899.

“Our first store was 31 East Adams, just around the corner, and while he was setting up business, someone knocked on the door, and he had his son – ‘Please let me in, I want to buy a camera for my son!’ – and grandpa let him in, sold him this camera, and they went away.

“Thirty years later, my dad gets a box in the mail, with this and a letter, explaining that story.”


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Stephen Dowling
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Robert Shanebrook
2 years ago

I am saddened to see Central Camera was damaged. It has been a great institution.

2 years ago

So, very sad. This feels like the last straw. I was a regular customer. Purchased my first camera there, Canon AE1.