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November 20th, 2006


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04:54 pm - The Fotomat

Kodak Fotomat, 1960's, originally uploaded by Roadsidepictures.
Can you believe this was the only picture of a "real live" Fotomat booth I could find online?

" I can see it all now, this is gonna be just like last summer. You fell in love with that girl at the Fotomat,
you bought forty dollars worth of fuckin' film, and you never even talked to her. You don't even own a camera."
- Mike Damone, Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)


I believe it is only a matter of time before every piece of American culture that ends in "-mat" will disappear from the public consciousness: The Automat is gone, and so is the Fotomat. Laundromats still have a long way to go, however, unless they invent some kind of magic Febreze that actually cleans your clothes rather than play Bachelor Pretend.

The Fotomat, first opened in 1965, combined two American loves: amateur photography and the drive-thru. What could be easier? Simply pull up to that distinctive Fotomat booth and drop your film off. The film would then travel to a central processing facility and the prints sent back to the Fotomat for you to pick up at your leisure. How long would a process like this take, you may ask? Well, check the ad banner in the photo above: They're offering One Day Photo Finishing. Drop it off today, get it back tomorrow. Now that's American progress at work for you!

These darned little kiosks were everywhere, but the only one I really remember was the one at the Caldor/Big Y Plaza in Northampton, roughly where the CVS used to be (I think it's now a mattress store or something.) Most of these kiosks are long-gone, but some have gone on to live new and productive lives as drive-up espresso joints or somesuch. Fotomat lives on, however, in the form of online photo software. Just no more drive-up yellow huts.

I'd always thought it must've been a terribly lonely job to be a Fotomat clerk, but apparently some folks loved the solitude. Probably brought along a bunch of good books, too. I bet in the summer them things got hot though.


(31 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments:


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From:limax
Date:November 20th, 2006 10:02 pm (UTC)
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Wasn't that what Robin Williams was playing in that one creepy film... a Fotomat clerk, or something like it?
[User Picture]
From:derspatchel
Date:November 20th, 2006 10:04 pm (UTC)
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He was a One-Hour Photo clerk at a big box retail store not unlike Wal-Mart. He didn't get to hang out in a nifty kiosk and maybe if he had, all that unpleasantness wouldn't have happened!

Positive thinking!
[User Picture]
From:antikythera
Date:November 20th, 2006 10:10 pm (UTC)
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It stands for 'automatic', right? Suddenly the etymology of 'cybermat' makes sense. o_O
[User Picture]
From:marphod
Date:November 20th, 2006 10:11 pm (UTC)
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The automat isn't QUITE dead.
Bamn! openned this past summer, in NYC. It seems relatively popular.
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From:markm
Date:November 20th, 2006 10:27 pm (UTC)
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Wow, excellent. When I was a kid, we used to go to RCMH annually for the christmas show and then head to an automat afterwards.

Now I'll get to bring my kids to one. Awesome.
(Deleted comment)
[User Picture]
From:antikythera
Date:November 20th, 2006 10:59 pm (UTC)
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That is rather neat. The closest thing I've ever seen to that was a vast bank of vending machines at a rest stop on I-81. I don't think it had sandwiches, though.
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From:stagemanager
Date:November 20th, 2006 10:22 pm (UTC)
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There was a Fotomat in the parking lot of the 7-11 I worked at just after high school. The last time I solidly recall it being there is 1981.

I think there's a coffee-table book in this, perhaps.

What prompted this post, if I may ask?
[User Picture]
From:derspatchel
Date:November 21st, 2006 07:17 pm (UTC)
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To be honest, it was the quote from Fast Times that made the two neurons in my head smack together and go "Oh yeah! I remember the Fotomat!"

And then did research and realized how much I remembered about those ubiquitous little yellow booths, but also how much I had forgotten.

It may be an interesting project to round up all the surviving Fotomat buildings to see what's become of them -- folks have compiled webpages that catalogue old Howard Johnson A-Frame buildings and Stuckey's roadside restaurants, so why not Fotomat booths?

Hmm.
[User Picture]
From:markm
Date:November 20th, 2006 10:26 pm (UTC)
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Man, the weird feeling of long-dormant neurons firing once again.
From:dcart
Date:November 20th, 2006 10:46 pm (UTC)
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For a few years in the latter half of the 70s, my grandma was the regional manager around Indianapolis for a photomat competitor in the midwest called Photobug. Same concept. Their booths were air conditioned.

I can remember visiting grandma and going on her rounds with her. For the first few years it was in her 1974 Mustang II and then later in her 1979 Buick Regal--a car that 9 years later became my first car. She was the manager for a 5 county area and had to visit each store once or twice a week.
[User Picture]
From:mwittier
Date:November 20th, 2006 10:57 pm (UTC)
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According to that photo, they also sold "flash bulbs", primitive and highly volatile precursor to ultramodern flashcubes, which I smugly carried in my vinyl-smelling camera bag (along with my Instamatic) during field trips to the Smithsonian.

Try explaining flashbulbs and flashcubes to some chilluns sometime. They laugh like we did at the prehistoric bird in Fred Flintstone's Polarock camera, that chiseled away at a stone slab.
[User Picture]
From:derspatchel
Date:November 21st, 2006 10:21 pm (UTC)
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"Awwwk! It's a living!"

As a kid I loved the row of flashcubes you put on your Polaroid camera. I loved how each flash started out pristine and almost candy-like, and then were turned into dusky blown-out trash.

Just didn't like the bright light in between candy and trash.
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From:coffeebeanben
Date:November 20th, 2006 11:25 pm (UTC)
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Our local Fotomat was in Framingham, MA, at Pinefield Shopping Center on the corner of Water St. and Nicholas Rd. where the Purity Supreme supermarket was. Also, Famous Pizza.

Also at the corner of Nicholas and Water is the Christa McAuliffe branch of the Framingham Public Library (formerly the Saxonville branch). Christa McAuliffe was the "Teacher in Space", killed in the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion in January 1986. Christa McAuliffe graduated Framingham High School the same year my parents did.

The memories, they do flood back.
From:eclecticavatar
Date:November 21st, 2006 06:37 pm (UTC)
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Hey, I'm from Ashland! Small world...
[User Picture]
From:kissoflife
Date:November 20th, 2006 11:35 pm (UTC)
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There are Espressomats now?! Oh, right, Flavia machines(lol).

What a darling little convertible.
What in all hell is an "out-of-space" convertible, btw? (from the song) Wiki and searches are giving me nada, and Spatch, bet you or your happy readership know...
[User Picture]
From:derspatchel
Date:November 21st, 2006 07:08 pm (UTC)
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I'm not sure off the top of my head (are you thinking of Santa Baby?!)

I'm willing to bet it has something to do with what the car does with the roof, though. Usually the car either simply folds the roof up and keeps it outside the car, or makes the roof retract into a special compartment after being folded up.

I can't think of the official term for that special compartment, but I can ask a fellow I know who restores cars in his spare time.
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From:hyperina
Date:November 21st, 2006 01:35 am (UTC)
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Bachelor Pretend?!
[User Picture]
From:derspatchel
Date:November 21st, 2006 06:50 pm (UTC)
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Febreze doesn't get stains out of your clothes, but if you have a shirt that's due for a wash but it doesn't smell all THAT bad and you simply MUST wear it today, you spritz it with Febreze and "pretend" you just washed it!

Not that I have ever done this.
[User Picture]
From:alphacygni
Date:November 21st, 2006 01:48 am (UTC)
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The Fotomat in Lewiston, New York, was converted into a very cute independant drive-through coffee hut. But they changed the color scheme completely.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:December 9th, 2008 12:55 am (UTC)

fotomat booth in Lewiston, NY

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I used to work in the Fotomat booth on Center Street in Lewiston, NY back in the late 1980s. I loved working in there. On cold snowy days it would be toasty warm inside. And in the spring and summer months it had a great airconditioning unit so it was cool inside. I used to order subs and pizza and ask them to deliver it to the booth, and I would sit in there eating and looking at all the townsfolks weddings, graduation parties, etc. The cash register served as a phone as well...the numbers were used to dial out. It was small inside, but cozy. Everyday a truck would pull up to the booth and I would give him all the photo envelopes that contained the customers film. He would drive to Ohio to process them at a lab and then bring them back the next day. He had to stop at dozens of booths on his way. Ahh those were the days. People used to wonder where we went to the bathroom. We would just put up a clock on the window that said "be back at....." and you would put the hands of the clock ahead ten minutes. I used to pretend to my friends that the seat I sat on in the booth was also a toilet. Also I used to pretend that there was a basement and I would pretend to go down and check to see if we had any more film.

The regional manager would visit the booth once every couple of weeks. I told her that customers would pull up to the booth and ask why they should drop their film off at fotomat when they can go to the store and get it done in an hour and for cheaper. She told me to tell them that "we offer drive through convenience." As if that was compelling enough reason. LOL!

The booth now sells coffee and there is even a small electric grill where they make egg sandwiches. The coffee is good, but how do they clean the grill? We never had any water in the booth.
[User Picture]
From:plorkwort
Date:November 21st, 2006 02:00 am (UTC)
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The Iowa 80 TRUCKOMAT IN ALL CAPS still exists in several locations in the Midwest.
[User Picture]
From:infinitehotel
Date:November 21st, 2006 02:48 am (UTC)
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There's a run-down abandoned Fotomat hut in the dead mall near our house. I stood in it once just to see how it felt.

Really tight quarters but I'll bet it was absolutely glorious when it rained...
[User Picture]
From:ron_newman
Date:November 21st, 2006 03:24 am (UTC)
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I recall seeing a Fotomat competitor called Shutterbug. I think their huts were actually shaped like an insect, but I'm not sure anymore.

The Automat lives on in the Netherlands where it is called FEBO.

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