Christi Johnson, owner of Still Images, has been part of the photo business literally all her life.
She grew up in a tiny mining town of Tumbler Ridge in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, where her father, a geologist and photographer, also ran the local framing service. She then worked at her mother’s photo lab in Calgary, and after she moved to Toronto to study special effects make-up for movies, continued to work in the industry until she moved into property management.
In her heart, however, working in a downtown corporate environment wasn’t what she liked best. After travelling around the world for 3 months, Christi moved to the Beaches where she rented an apartment, and then leased the space where Still Images is now located (a shop that used to sell posters). Today, she lives close by in Riverdale.
“The first 8 months of any new business is very, very tough,” she says, “In December 2014, I had sunk every penny into Still Images, and at one point, even had to give up my apartment and sleep on a friend’s couch to make ends meet. But I was willing to give up everything to keep the shop going. I knew that I would survive.“
A break came when Blacks Photography closed all its stores in the spring of 2015. In a generous move, at a difficult time, the owners of the Beaches Blacks let Christi put up posters redirecting customers to Still Images. The passport photo business she picked up kept the store going while Christi built its reputation in other areas.
“I always wanted to say thank you to Blacks”, Christi recalls, “and it happened recently. The daughter of the woman who owns Blacks in Canada came into my shop to get some prints and I told her the story. Their kindness saved my life.”
Four years later, the store is on its way to being what Christi hopes is an iconic service in the city for professional photo finishing and custom framing. Although customers are welcome to come to the store to create inexpensive prints in minutes at one of their Kodak photo kiosks, Still Images is much more than just traditional photo lab.
“We are 100 percent about service,” says Christi, “ One of us here will help you select the right photo, crop, colour adjust, whatever you need, and ensure your choice is printed on quality paper that lasts forever, or a finish of your choice. We make it perfect for you!”
Christi explains that although inexpensive “cheap and cheerful” prints are convenient, there is no comparison in quality between thermal printing used online or at the photo kiosks, and the professional Epson printer used for quality printing. “These prints never fade, they last forever, and we can make the finished product as small as a locket or as large as a wall!”
In addition to Christi, staff at Still Images include Jacquie, Christi’s long time friend from the photo industry, Phayce, and two Beaches neighbours, Leah, and Mila, a university student. Visitors to the store also may have met the new “customer service queen” at Still Images, Christi’s 9-month old daughter Maple.
It is not uncommon to see hugs and tender moments between staff and customers. Helping people select the right family photo, a photo for a gift, or perhaps, a tribute for a funeral service, builds strong connections.
“I’ve been in this business all my life,” says Christi, “And those of us who know it, understand what a privilege it is to be part of someone’s life when they are sharing their photos with you. It is a fantastic way to learn about people and about the world. And people return because they have a relationship with us.”
2142A Queen St. E. | 416-698-8151 | still-images.ca