CAMBRIDGE-Framed by half-price frames, empty shelves, and a carousel of batteries, Tony Ferranti reflected on his signature camera shop's 51 years in Harvard Square. Friends and family, customers, and former employees circled around Ferranti, who describes himself as "a young 82," as he recalled the spirit in which he and his brother, Charlie, opened the doors of Ferranti-Dege in 1955.
"Our expectation was not to build an empire, and we didn't," said Ferranti. "We wanted to create a place where customers and employees could share a passion for photography and have some fun. Fun was a big part of it. Fun and good conversation."
Both declining business and Harvard Real Estate's plans to renovate the Mass. Ave. building contributed to Ferranti's decision to call it a day at 6 p.m. on Oct. 13. He spoke of wanting to go out gracefully, expressing no bitterness toward his alma mater's real estate arm, which will overhaul the century-plus-old building from January until fall 2007. Nor did Ferranti wish to wag a finger at digital photography's darkening of darkrooms.
Though he prefers rolls of films to ones and zeros, he accepts, if not applauds, the change."Photography as an art form just isn't there as much anymore," said Ferranti, whose slide shows of Harvard football games ran in nearby bank windows decades ago. "Computers and the Internet have changed the way people seek satisfaction in the arts. Many people are working in a solitary online environment that seems to meet all their needs. Our store was part of a different world. It was a very social place."
The corner shop was also the place where generations of Harvard students touched down after graduation. Retirement, said Ferranti, means a change in work, not an end to it, a trait he traces to his father, who kept his days full after running a Harvard Square barber shop for 40-plus years. "I have my silver-making. I'd like to get a show on the public cable channel in Arlington and talk politics," said Ferranti. "There's a basement to clean, too."
Customers off the street swirled around Ferranti, looking for that 11th-hour bargain among the remaining half-priced merchandise. Some with rolls of film in hand couldn't believe their favorite photo store was suddenly closing.
"It's another big loss for the square," said Rod Kessler, 57, a customer since his freshman year at Harvard in 1967. "The Harvard Square I remember is now Davis Square, where there's bookstores, characters, vitality.
"As the window grates clanked shut outside, inside, longtime customer Chris Ripman handed out glasses of champagne. "They're coming out of the woodwork," Ferranti said.
Toasts were made, glasses clinked, and cheers sounded. Songs followed. Digital and 35-millimeter cameras clicked away as Ripman and friends sang a capella versions of "Here's a Health" and "The Parting Glass." The last moment had arrived. With the shop still full of well-wishers, Ferranti approached the front door, turned the key, and then changed the shopworn sign from "Open" to "Closed." His son, who flew in from Los Angeles, requested that the sequence take place one more time so that he could film it. The parting shot had caught him off guard. He was not alone.
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