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Final Exposure

Newberry’s Camera Repair Shop closes next week after serving community for more than 50 years.

After the third ring of the phone, Jesse Newberry slowly rises from a chair in his workshop and, with the aid of a walker, ambles toward a row of 1960s Polaroid cameras to pick up the receiver on the wall.

ON THE other end of the line a woman asks if she can bring her digital camera into his Newberry Camera Repair Shop, near the intersection of Lee Highway and Old Dominion Drive.

"A digital camera?" Newberry responds, as if it were the first time he had heard the term. "Nope. Can’t help ya."

The 82-year-old hangs up and returns to his workshop, walking past barren shelves that used to hold classic Leicas and Nikons from the mid-20th century.

"See, that’s all I get called for any more- — digital cameras," said Newberry, who first opened his shop in Arlington in 1953. "The digital camera did me in."

After more than five decades of fixing jammed shutters, repairing lenses and replacing broken film doors, Newberry will close his shop on April 27.

The store, located on the bottom floor of a simple, cream-colored house, has served as a Lee Highway landmark, and generations of Arlingtonians have stopped by on Saturday afternoons to drop off their damaged cameras or have their passport pictures taken.

The demise of Newberry’s shop is symbolic of the slow death of the film camera industry. At first, only major print film companies like Kodak and Polaroid saw a drop in profits, as customers stopped purchasing their products in favor of the latest sleek, easy-to-use digital cameras.

"People are putting their old cameras in a closest," said Newberry, a large magnifying bar perched on his head. "Everybody wants to own a digital. Even my kids."

While most locally owned camera shops began to specialize in helping people print their digital pictures, Newberry stuck to what he knew best — classic cameras.

"I’m too old to learn," said Newberry, who suffers from diabetes and macular degeneration in one of his eyes.

Over the past three years he has seen his customer base shrink dramatically, and paying the rent became increasingly difficult.

Yet Newberry is no Luddite. The introduction of digital cameras has been a blessing for the photography industry, he said, as it has led millions of people to rediscover the art form.

"YOU CAN’T stop progress," he said. "Even a 2-year-old can use a digital camera and then email the picture."

Newberry grew up and went to school in the District before joining the army at the height of World War II. An infantry man, he landed on the beaches of France just four days after the invasion of Normandy.

One of his proudest moments of service came when "Gen. Patton put a rifle in my hand." Captured by the Nazis during a battle in Luxembourg, Newberry spent seven tortuous months in a prisoner of war camp outside Frankfurt, where he almost died from malnutrition.

After the war ended, Newberry returned to Washington and was able to get a job in a camera shop, even though he had "no interest" in film.

Since he was reluctant to work as a salesman the owners put him in the repair shop, and Newberry taught himself how to assemble and fix cameras.

After seven years he struck out on his own, opening a store on the corner of Glebe Road and Lee Highway before moving to his current location.

Before long Newberry gained a reputation as one of the best repairmen in Northern Virginia, and customers arrived with their broken cameras from across the region.

"No one in the area will be able to replace the knowledge he has about cameras," said John G. Fantucchio, who has been patronizing the shop for nearly 30 years.

Newberry’s served as a meeting place for classic camera aficionados. Taylor Branson, 18, would spend hours each weekend in the store soaking up the wisdom of Newberry and long-time customers.

"That shop is the foundation of photography in the county," Branson said. "It was unbelievable."

What many will miss most is Newberry’s lively personality and sharp wit. For his 60th wedding anniversary Newberry said he "bought a chili dog, two hot fudge sundaes and took them home. That was our celebration."

Once the store closes, Newberry and his wife will sell their Vienna home and move to a house in the Northern Neck, where his son-in-law owns three acres.

HE IS EAGER to learn how to fish, but said it will be a poor replacement for golf, which he had to give up once his health began to fail.

Over the past few weeks many old customers have returned to the store for one last look at the cameras and friendly chat. One man drove all the way from North Carolina to say good-bye.

"It’s sad," Newberry said as he glanced around at the blank cream walls in the shop. "I’d still like to come to work. I had it made here and it’s hard to leave."