Customers work on computers at Costco Wholesale in Fontana recently. Costco is closing its photo departments in about 800 stores, including Fontana, on Feb. 14.  (Contributed photo by Jerry Soifer)

Valentine's Day, Feb. 14, will be a day of heartbreak for photographers in Fontana and all around the nation. Costco Wholesale has announced it is closing the photo departments in its approximately 800 stores in the United States on that day.

The closure signifies a major change in what photography means to people. The company announced the business has to change because people want their photos on their smart phones and computers. The company will still offer services on line.

The closure has hit photographers hard.

Longtime Costco employee Elise Coffen, a Fontana Kaiser graduate who is married to a co-worker, said she is sad because she uses the photo department for all her family and vacation photos which she changes at her home constantly.

Costco provides services for all skill levels, the amateur like Coffen and a pro like Mike Leone, the hospital photographer for Arrowhead Regional Medical Center in Colton and former director of photography at the San Bernardino Sun. Leone was a frequent customer at the Corona Costco.

"I would drive an extra 20 miles to go to them," said Leone, a Riverside resident. "'For whatever reason, they seemed to have the way I toned my photos dialed in. What I submitted to them, looked the same when I got the prints. They seemed to understand the value of the customer."

Alan Wedertz, owner of Alan's Custom Lab in Lancaster, said, "The closing down of the Costco Photo Departments is a huge blow to the photographic public. The Costco I deal with is exceptional in its ability to give consumers the best quality prints. I was nearly always pleased with the output. This will end the era of having physical prints to look at and save for the future. Most people now only want photos for their phones and computers. This is understandable but not well thought out for future generations. What happens when your hard drive blows up or quits? What happens when the web goes down or gets hacked? There goes your images and your past. I have experienced it firsthand when my hard drive sizzled and smoked. All my images were gone."

Washington Post photographer Katherine Frey, who helped cover the riot at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, said, "I used Costco years ago and was impressed with the results. We bought a really good photo printer since that time, so I haven’t used their services in a very long time. It’s disappointing that another option is going away. "

Los Angeles Times community news photographer Raul Roa said, "Digital cameras and people not wanting prints is making it much less profitable for them. No one prints as much as they used to. Photography is always going to be there, be it in print or virtual, but I hope people will still want to make prints. Holding a photo is just much more powerful than looking at it on a screen."

Roa added, "I’ve been going to Costco for decades, and the price and quality was always exceptional. I’ll keep printing through their website and getting my prints by mail."

Costco offered far more than prints. In 2015, I photographed a memorial service for Al LoCasale, the retired executive assistant of the NFL's Raiders in Oakland. I had to turn around more than 50 DVDs bearing photos of the event for his family and those who attended. Corona Costco did it at normal cost.

The people who work behind the counter are the best part. They make me feel like a Little League player going to a pizza parlor after a game or a high school letterman taking his date to the malt shop after the sock hop.

----- JOSIE ALVAREZ, a Philadelphia Eagles fan, has worked there 27 years. Her best friend Lia Amos survived a harrowing immigration from Mexico to work in the department for 25 years, including the night of June 14, 2019, when off-duty Los Angeles Police Officer Salvador Sanchez fatally shot 32-year-old Kenneth French, an intellectually disabled man, and wounded his parents while they were shopping.

Amos was told to go outside. Traumatized, she forgot her keys. After being told she could go home, she was not allowed to go back in the store to get her keys. She had to call a relative for a ride.

Amos had to take several weeks off to recover her equilibrium. Alvarez helped cover for her. Amos has filled in for Alvarez.

"Josie has saved my life," Amos said.

Amos and Alvarez will move to different departments after the closing.

The closure of the Costco photo department marks another step in the constantly changing world of photography from black and white to color, from slides to film and from film to digital. Chemical processing of film became obsolete. The value of prints has been devalued.

Most people keep their photos on their smartphones, a fact Costco acknowledged in announcing the closing.

(Jerry Soifer is a Fontana Herald News correspondent.)

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