Topeka store did all it could to ride the tide of tech

After 97 years, Wolfe's Camera is closing up shop



June 3, 2021 - 10:24 AM

Wolfe's Camera Shop in Topeka. Photo by Nick Krug

After almost 100 years in business, Wolfe’s Camera Shop in downtown Topeka is preparing to close its doors.

Two generations have run the store since its beginning in 1924. At one time the business had five locations, including a branch in St. Joseph, Mo., and as many as 50 employees. 

Its success came from its determination to stay current in a fast-changing field and do more than just sell equipment. Wolfe clientele held regular photography classes, helping develop not only artistic talent, but also a loyal clientele. 

Our goal … was to be the best, biggest camera store in a great distance. So you knew if you needed some hard-to-find something, you could go there and find it.Mike Worswick of Wolfe’s Camera Shop

Ownership also set itself high standards.

“Our goal … was to be the best, biggest camera store in a great distance,” said Mike Worswick, nephew to founder Harold B. Wolfe, in a recent interview with the Topeka Capital-Journal.

“So you knew if you needed some hard-to-find thing, you could go there and find it,” he said. 

Though it kept photography as its core, Wolfe’s expanded its inventory to become a one-stop electronics shop and over the years sold tape recorders, calculators, computers, audio and video equipment and even rented movies for a while. 

EVEN SO, the writing was on the wall that its days were numbered.

As with any field, technology has widened photography’s scope, and in so doing narrowed the profitability of its small business model.

Beginning in the 1990s, digital photography eliminated the need for film and its costly and time-intensive development. 

Today’s sophisticated cell phones have all but replaced instant and compact cameras. 

The nail in the coffin is the internet. Individual retailers such as Wolfe’s can’t compete with the discount prices and wide range of products of online electronics stores.

In recent years, face-to-face transactions at the Topeka store have comprised only about 12-15% of sales, according to Topeka photographer Nick Krug who visited with owners Wednesday afternoon (and shot the accompanying photo.)

DESPITE THE LOSS, the downtown location is prime real estate and hopefully will attract some other investor who, like the Wolfe and Worsick families, will give it their all.

— Susan Lynn