Flash your camera, not your wallet at United Camera

Tom DeWinter, of United Camera Repair in Rock Island is a co-owner of the business that's been open since 1955. Photo by Kelly Steiner

Tom DeWinter, of United Camera Repair in Rock Island is a co-owner of the business that’s been open since 1955. Photo by Kelly Steiner

Old cameras, new cameras, Canons, Nikons and everything in between. They line the walls up to the ceiling, sitting on shelves that surround the entire room. The area is clean, but obviously a work-space, with blank walls and a concrete floor. Parts sit scattered on tables and shelves across the shop, which is hidden to customers by a tall wall, lined with even more cameras that are for sale. Driving by, it’s so small you might miss it unless you’re looking close.

It’s the home of United Camera Repair in Rock Island, a business that’s been open since 1955. Co-owner Tom DeWinter has worked there since 1965 when he was only 15 years old. The business was formerly owned by a family friend, who hired DeWinter because he liked to work with electronics.

“It was challenging work when all my friends were getting jobs at a gas station or McDonalds or something,” said DeWinter. “It was a good opportunity to work with something I really liked.”

DeWinter liked it so much that he bought the business with partner Denny Timmerman in 1991.

DeWinter and three other techs fix cameras, iPods, iPads, laptops and video game consoles. The shop also sells reconditioned equipment, but DeWinter said this is a small part of his business.

“We work on equipment, but it’s not the same thing every day.”DeWinter said. “We work on a lot of different brands, a lot of models, a lot of types of electronics.”

He enjoys this challenge about his job. “It’s just something different every day.”

However, one thing that is hard for him is marketing. DeWinter said his business is difficult to advertise because it’s one people only think about when they really need it. However, he encourages people to consider getting their old electronics fixed instead of buying new.

“I would look at the item and ask myself if when it worked right if you were happy with it,” DeWinter said, adding that the learning curve with a new piece of equipment can make it harder to learn. He said fixing the old usually costs less than half of buying new.

There is an $18.50 diagnostic fee as well as the charge for repairs. Some repairs are done under that fee, however, and it ends up costing less than $20 to fix. The parts cost is the biggest factor in determining how expensive it will be.

Most of United Camera’s business doesn’t come from the Quad-Cities. People from across the country mail equipment to United Camera to get it fixed because they are one of the few shops trained to actually fix it. DeWinter said oftentimes when people take a camera in to another shop to get fixed, that shop ships it to him to do the repairs.

“Almost none of them have in-house repairs,” DeWinter said of camera repair shops. The shop gets 10-15 boxes per day full of items.

The technicians go to seminars put on by an independent trade organization at least once a year to keep up with the latest technology.

“Each new item is really based on its predecessor, so there’s often a lot of similarities from one model to the next,” said DeWinter.

The shop has a customer base from St. Ambrose and DeWinter said that someone here refers students, faculty and staff alike to his shop, especially photographer students. He also gets business from Augustana and other local schools. Students are often recommended to buy refurbished cameras to save money.

Business is going well, and DeWinter doesn’t see any major changes coming soon. However, he isn’t opposed to adding new electronics for his shop to fix as long as there is a demand for it.

For more information, visit http://www.united-camera.com or call (309) 786-0950.

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