Take a picture and it’ll last longer. Take a picture to Snelson Photocolor Lab in Springville, and it can be restored, made into a mug, a T-shirt, a poster, metal wall hanging – perhaps even a sky banner – because the sky’s the limit, or so it seems, for this 50-year-old business.
It was in June of 1973 when Ralph Snelson opened up the photo lab on Main Street in Springville. And, according to his son Mike Snelson who now runs the shop, it was born out of devastating circumstances.
“A fire destroyed five businesses down here along Springville Main street, and one of those businesses was a photo studio where my dad did the photo processing for the photographer,” Mike Snelson recalled.
The fire that Mike is talking about has been named as “One of the worst in Springville History,” according to the city’s website. The fire that was located between 100 and 200 South on the west side of Main Street, destroyed four buildings that housed five businesses including the Western Auto store, Norman’s upholstery, Ye old Mill Health Food Store, the Utah state liquor agency, and Castleton’s Photo studio.
Mike said that during June of 1973, his dad opened Snelson Photo primarily as a place to print pictures for the photographer whose studio burnt down. Mike assisted at the lab as a young man, leaving it only for a couple of years to serve an LDS Church mission. Mike said that as time went on, the lab began servicing other local photographers until the 1990’s .
It was around that time when he and his dad began to see a shift in the way photos were being processed, and they knew that they needed to make some major changes if they were going to stay in business.
“We saw some things that were going to radically affect our business back in the early nineties, and that’s about the same time when Adobe Photoshop started,” Mike recalled. “We saw a machine similar to what Adobe Photoshop does nowadays, and that kind of scared us into a transition into digital. We started working our way into digital with some Mac computers, color copiers and things like that. We also started to branch out our customer base into graphic artists and those types of customers while still maintaining our regular customer base of professional portrait and wedding photographers.”
It was that scare into digital design and printing that Mike said was able to keep the photo lab in business when many other labs were not able to.
“From about 2002 to 2010 or so, there were small labs like ours that serviced professional portrait and wedding photographers that were going out of business about every week,” he said. “We would get emails seeing if we wanted to buy their equipment because they hadn’t geared up for the digital transition like we did. Many saw it as simply a fad, but it scared the pants off of us and kind of motivated us to move forward. Because of this, we were well into digital by the time digital photography really hit, and when it did, we were in a position that we could educate our photographer customers on how to shoot digital and how to use the medium, as well as provide them with digitally printed products.”
But just like any business in the ever-evolving tech space, things once again changed rapidly with digital cameras getting better and the printing industry becoming less of a need.
“As cameras got better and better, there were a lot of people that thought that they could now be professional photographers because it was a cheap business to get into. They could take the pictures and they didn’t have to worry about printing them,” Mike said. “They could just hand the images off to their customers and let their customers worry about it. That kind of killed the professional portrait and wedding photography market.”
Once again, Mike and his team began to look for ways to provide services to their customers, and that included providing specialty printing services.
“In order to compete with that, we started doing things like large format printing, canvas, printing, posters, signage and that type of thing. And then as time went on, we also branched out into digital capture of legacy media like film, negative slide and slide scanning,” Mike said. “We started to do a lot of photo restorations where people would bring in damaged photos and we would restore those and give them a new print and we’re still in that business. We even do digital printing of T-shirts, hats, other apparel, photo gifts, and things like that. We do a lot of fine art reproductions for artists that do acrylic or watercolor paintings.”
Mike said that while the photo printing industry has very much evolved over the past 50 years with far fewer people printing photos, that there is still nothing like holding a printed picture in your hands. He also said that even though digital photos are a great way to preserve memories, that printing photos is still an important way to do the very same thing.
“People are taking way more pictures than they ever have before, and unless you have specific backup plans, I recommend that you have prints of your most important stuff because digital is very easy to lose,” he said. “One of the issues is that digital technology is constantly changing. People used to back their stuff up to floppy disks and then to zip drives and then to CDs and DVDs, flash drives and hard drives. Now, the cloud is how to do it. Every time these new technologies come online and the old ones go away, you’ve got to take what you’ve backed up and convert it to the new technology. Now, if you make a print, you’ve got a print that you just need to take care of.”
But, of course there is a flip side to this coin, and Snelson’s PhotoColor Lab has found a way to work it both ways by offering photo restoration and digitizing so that those old printed photos can also have a home in the digital world.
Because according to Mike Snelson, the past 50 years have been all about preserving those memories for generations to come even as the seasons change and technologies evolve.
Snelsons PhotoColor Lab is located at 80 West Center Street in Springville. To order prints, go to snelsonphotolab.com.