What did Snow White say to the guy at Fotomat? Someday my prints will come...
November 25, 2009 12:53 AM   Subscribe

Fotomat 's tiny drive-up huts with the yellow roof were an icon of the 1970s suburban experience, with 4000 of them throughout the U.S. You drove up, gave your film to the girl inside, and got prints a couple of days later. But stores began closing en masse in the 1980s with the boom of in-store "prints in an hour". Most Fotomats have been torn down or are crumbling away (cool slideshow), a few being used for coffee or cigarettes. Former alumni are out there and share some memories stories on Facebook. Fotomat unbelievably is around and has a website but this September they threw in the towel on their Snapfish-like business model.
posted by crapmatic (35 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite

 
4000 stores. 4000!

If only technology didn't move. Oh wait...
posted by effugas at 2:25 AM on November 25, 2009


These things are going the same way as their total opposite: the photo booth.
posted by twoleftfeet at 3:55 AM on November 25, 2009


Neat post. I haven't thought about those little stores in years. I'm surprised by the happy stories that past employees tell in your one link, I would have thought that it would be a hellish job to sit in a hot little box for an eight hour shift. And no rest room, I guess that you had to lock up and run over to the Burger King across the parking lot to pee.
posted by octothorpe at 4:15 AM on November 25, 2009


I guess that you had to lock up and run over to the Burger King across the parking lot to pee.

Yes. That is exactly what you had to do. The booths themselves had A/C. Or, at least, the one my friend worked in did, back in high school.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:36 AM on November 25, 2009


GIRL inside? I thought Fotomats all had creepy guys inside who you were sure were keeping copies of all your pics.
posted by DU at 4:51 AM on November 25, 2009


Our old Fotomat does hot dogs, and a pretty rockin' hot lobster roll. You can hardly taste the fixer.
posted by Kinbote at 4:52 AM on November 25, 2009 [6 favorites]


We had one in our town. When I was little, I asked my Dad was a "Fotomat" was. He said it was where people took their dirty pictures to get washed. I didn't understand why my Mom got so pissed at that until much later.
posted by double block and bleed at 5:22 AM on November 25, 2009 [7 favorites]


1970s suburban experience? I'm pretty sure we had a couple in Queens, NY when I was a kid.
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 5:36 AM on November 25, 2009


Yeah, what Cat Pie Hurts said. Also seen in Northeast Philadelphia. One became an espresso joint.
posted by fixedgear at 5:41 AM on November 25, 2009


You drove up, gave your film to the girl inside, and got prints a couple of days later.

I was that girl for a few months. Except I'm a guy.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 6:04 AM on November 25, 2009 [2 favorites]


I remember a similar business called "Photo Bug" around the same time, but they seemed to have vanished even more completely than Fotomat; I can't find a trace of them on the web. I definitely remeber both of them from growing up in the 70s, though. Cool post.
posted by TedW at 6:23 AM on November 25, 2009


I was trying to find a clip of the world's most famous Fotomat, but the best I could do was this.
posted by uncleozzy at 6:35 AM on November 25, 2009


When I was a young kid in the early 80s, the local shopping plaza had a fotomat in the parking lot, and one just inside the door. Before disappearing altogether, they were both converted to video rental booths, with an attendant who would sit there all day processing rentals on what must have literally been no more than 100 tapes worth of inventory. I remember being about seven years old and having a protracted argument with the booth attendant about whether or not my parents would want me watching Fast Times at Ridgemont High.
posted by autodidact at 6:46 AM on November 25, 2009 [3 favorites]


Long before I knew I would someday be a Jew in Salt Lake City myself, I laughed at Roseanne's joke that, as a child growing up here, her temple's High Holy Day services were held in a Fotomat booth.

The last time I tried that joke with a co-worker, they had no idea what a Fotomat booth was. So I grumbled and told them to get off my lawn.
posted by Joe Beese at 6:52 AM on November 25, 2009 [3 favorites]



GIRL inside? I thought Fotomats all had creepy guys inside who you were sure were keeping copies of all your pics.


HEY MY MOM WORKED AT FOTOMAT SHUT UP

She did. Really. In 1974 -75, I think.

I don't think she kept copies of your pics, but I'll ask her at dinner tomorrow.
posted by louche mustachio at 7:06 AM on November 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


I remember being about seven years old and having a protracted argument with the booth attendant about whether or not my parents would want me watching Fast Times at Ridgemont High.

"This is all gonna be like last summer. You fell in love with that girl in the Fotomat, you bought forty dollars worth of fuckin' film, and you never even talked to her. You don't even own a camera."
posted by Spatch at 7:28 AM on November 25, 2009 [3 favorites]


HEY MY MOM WORKED AT FOTOMAT SHUT UP

I don't think she kept copies of your pics, but I'll ask her at dinner tomorrow.


I hope she kept copies--she's in most of them.

BAM!
posted by DU at 7:43 AM on November 25, 2009 [15 favorites]


This is one of those things that when we explain it to our children, they'll look at us like we were born in the Stone Age.
posted by gnutron at 8:15 AM on November 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


For some reason I totally wanted to live in one when I was a kid. I don't think I realized they didn't have indoor plumbing, though.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 8:33 AM on November 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


I am old enough to remember fotomats but too young to have actually used them.
posted by deanc at 8:38 AM on November 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


I remember being about seven years old and having a protracted argument with the booth attendant about whether or not my parents would want me watching Fast Times at Ridgemont High.

That's all kinds of awesome.

Six more payments, gentlemen, and this beautiful, albeit cramped, storefront is all mine.
posted by porn in the woods at 8:57 AM on November 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


These things are going the same way as their total opposite: the photo booth.

Photo booths aren't going away where I live. We have two different friends with two different mobile photo booth businesses. Purikura booths exist here in Japantown, and are very popular.
posted by oneirodynia at 9:37 AM on November 25, 2009


The only Fotomat booth near me now sells Bibles.
posted by killy willy at 9:48 AM on November 25, 2009


Trip out -- I was wondering what the chances were of seeing my mom's photo-developer of choice on there was: 100%! Was wondering why, when that area has been churned to death by the upwardly-mobile standard of living out there, the place still existed and was pleased to hear that part of town is still a hole. And World of Shoes is still open! Where you could go and just try on shoes yourself without some proprietor fussing over you! Ogre heaven! for the 80s anyways. Now, like, everywhere is like that. Sadly, both the Raj Mahal and Wold's Hobbies have bit it. Where am I going to buy my D&D books and train supplies and where will I go to eat Indian Food in 70s splendor?
posted by Ogre Lawless at 10:25 AM on November 25, 2009


I picked up my crossword puzzle habit working in Fotomats in the '80s.
posted by obloquy at 10:51 AM on November 25, 2009


HEY MY MOM WORKED AT FOTOMAT SHUT UP

My mom worked at Fotomat too, somewhere around 1978. So, yea.
posted by cabingirl at 11:03 AM on November 25, 2009


They were definitely in Queens - there was one two blocks from our house in Flushing.
posted by Calloused_Foot at 12:15 PM on November 25, 2009


Also the original icon for pre-Adobe Photoshop.
posted by HTuttle at 3:27 PM on November 25, 2009


Photo booths aren't going away where I live. We have two different friends with two different mobile photo booth businesses. Purikura booths exist here in Japantown, and are very popular.

They're not going away in the real Japan, either. Every government office requires you to bring photos for passport or ID applications, and companies generally require them on resumes.

Photo processing stores, though, are either disappearing or adding machines to handle digital photos.
posted by armage at 4:24 PM on November 25, 2009


Incidentally, there are people trying to save Polaroids.
posted by armage at 4:27 PM on November 25, 2009


I hope she kept copies--she's in most of them.

BAM!


Well played. Dad.
posted by louche mustachio at 5:18 PM on November 25, 2009


HEY MY MOM WORKED AT FOTOMAT SHUT UP

My mom worked at Fotomat too, somewhere around 1978. So, yea.


Yeah indeed. I worked in one in the early 90s in Austin, though it wasn't Fotomat®, it was a Fox Photo.

I tell you what, there are days now when the Internet goes down at work and I wonder what people did on slow days at work before the internet. And then I remember that I worked in a fucking Fotomat booth. Before the advent of the internet. And I tell you, I still don't know what people did before there was no internet at work.

I guess we looked at the creepy pictures. And trust me, there were creepy pictures. "Dude, just get a polaroid" was a daily curse.
posted by mudpuppie at 7:47 PM on November 25, 2009


In 1983, for a few months, my mother had a part-time job at one of those one-hour places that started displacing the Fotomats.

She took home at least one duplicate set of your naked-on-the-beach photos. I know because, as a confused nine-year-old discovering that pictures of naked women were pretty interesting, I was thrilled to find a set of such pictures way back in the closet off the living room, inside that suitcase in the corner that was never quite zipped up.

FYI, if you and a couple of your friends went to a beach on the mid-Atlantic (most likely, given the local geography), slowly stripped off your clothes, took pictures of it, and you lived in or near Laurel, Maryland, and you can't figure out to this day why you never got those pictures returned to you . . . I think my mother stole them for her private stash.

OK, I really don't want to think about this any more . . . (shudder)
posted by CommonSense at 9:01 PM on November 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


My dad tore the roof off of a fotomat trying to drive up to the window in a borrowed camper. Fucked up the camper, too. Hilarious.
posted by cometwendy at 3:12 AM on November 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


Penn Jilette talked about a friend of his who collects (or collected, anyway) these kinds of photos. He had a legion of employees who made copies or stole them, as well as sifting through the garbage at processing centers. Weird.
posted by gjc at 6:57 AM on November 26, 2009


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