Photo business among Spencer startups

Published 12:00 am Monday, June 6, 2011

By Emily Ford
SPENCER — Award-winning local photographer David Lamanno hopes people interested in old trains are also interested in old photography.
Lamanno has opened Photography 1851 across the street from the N.C. Transportation Museum at 506 S. Salisbury Ave. The studio — with an expansive interior brick wall perfect as a backdrop — specializes in authentic tintype images and other 19th century photography techniques.
One of only a handful of photographers in North Carolina still practicing the 160-year-old art, Lamanno makes the collodion, silver bath and developer by hand.
He employs two antique cameras, which look themselves like pieces of art, and captures what he calls “instant heirlooms” on aluminum or glass, starting at $15.
Tracy Aitken, president of the Spencer Business Association, said Lamanno’s studio will attract transportation tourists who want a unique momento from their time at the museum, which sees roughly 100,000 visitors a year.
“It’s really cool to have the archaic technology, and I think that people who are going to the train museum will be interested in that particular product,” Aitken said.
Besides keepsakes for tourists, Lamanno’s wet collodion images can mark life’s milestones — graduations, anniversaries, engagements. He suggests them for re-enactors, musicians and other performers searching for a distinctive look to use on promotional material.
And with his mobile darkroom, Lamanno can set up at events too large or far away to use his Spencer studio.
“I am open to all commissions,” he says on his website, “The more creative, the better.”
Photography 1851, named for the year tintype photography was created, is one of eight new businesses licensed in Spencer in the past six months. A women’s clothing boutique, two restaurants, an indoor flea market, hair salon, gas station and convenience store also have opened or plan to soon.
Spencer often sees an uptick in new businesses as the weather heats up, said Dustin Wilson, the town’s land management director.
High attrition rate
Unfortunately, most new businesses don’t make it, he said.
“I would say we have maybe a net gain of one business per year, so the attrition rate is pretty high,” he said.
Vacant storefronts fill the three-block downtown shopping district. The former Park Plaza is more empty than not.
But Aitken remains optimistic, pointing out that Spencer’s commercial rents are low and space is available in a variety of sizes.
She’s overjoyed to have eight new small business owners in town.
“The more business we get, the more traffic we are going to get,” said Aitken, who co-owns Pinocchio’s restaurant.
Town officials have a few changes in mind that could help recruit and retain business:
• The town has applied for the N.C. Small Town Main Street program. If Spencer is chosen, the state would spend two years helping revitalize the downtown. The program focuses on organization, promotion, design and economic restructuring.
Spencer has set aside roughly $8,000 over two years to pay for travel and expenses for consultants.
• Town leaders may allow one business to have many uses. For example, a bookstore also could serve as a bakery and coffee shop.
Spencer Planning Board will hold a courtesy hearing June 28 on the ordinance, which would allow multiple principal uses.
• The sign ordinance also could change. Leaders are working to make it more objective.
• The town’s website now has a step-by-step guide to opening a new business, from picking a location to applying for a facade grant.
“We want to make the path to opening a new business as easy as possible,” Aitken said.
Culmination of dream
Lamanno had eyed the location of his new studio for three years. He and his family — wife April Lamanno grew up in Salisbury and works at Salisbury Pediatric Associates — live just four blocks away.
Mostly self-taught, Lamanno became serious about photography 11 years ago and completed a workshop in Philadelphia last year.
The location that had fired his imagination became available after he finished the training.
“Things came together, and this is the culmination of a childhood dream,” he said.
Still a fulltime employee at Barnes & Noble in Winston-Salem, Lamanno hopes someday to make his living making photographs on metal and glass, or “Victorian polaroids” as he calls them.
He uses digital photography as well and will sell his digital and black-and-white images in a gallery inside the studio. A member of the Looking Glass Artist Collective, Lamanno’s work is also available at 405 N. Lee St.
Lamanno won second place in both the People and Black & White categories in “Our State” magazine’s 2010 annual reader photo contest.
Contact Lamanno via his website, which offers detailed explanations of the age-old photographic processes he uses. Appointments are available in the evenings and on weekends, with some flexibility on weekdays.
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.