The Photographic Historical Society of Canada

The History of Henry’s - Photographic Retailing
Andrew Stein, CEO
Program date: October 21, 2009

Andrew Stein - by Lansdale
Andrew Stein by
Robert Lansdale

100th Anniversary

Founder Harry Himelstein
Harry Stein

Henry & Co Jewellery

Henry's on Queen
Henry & Co Queen

in store shot
Camera counter

Henry's packed with goodies
Packed with goodies

Henry & Co Cameras
Henry & Company

Andy and Mark
Andy and Mark

a quiet moment
A quiet moment...

moving to 119 Church st
On the move

the gang's all here
The gang's all here

beetle camera
VW Beetle Camera

new Henry's
New Henry's store

Andrew Stein’s grandfather founded Henry’s in 1909. Andrew did a remarkable job restoring the business after difficulties in the 1980s. He is the guiding light in the company’s adaptation to the digital revolution and its expansion into markets beyond the GTA. For tonight’s talk, Mr Stein was accompanied by Janet Smith (marketing) and Ren Bostelaar (staff training). Ren gave a brief talk after Andrew on three modern-day photographic accessories while Janet arranged gifts for each attendee. Thank you, Janet.

If Nortel had had an Andrew Stein at the helm, Canada would still have its famous network and technology goliath! The story of Henry’s begins with the arrival of 16 year old Harry Himelstein from Russia and his opening of a small store in Toronto, a business that evolved into one of the best known Canadian photographic retail chains. It is a story of struggle, growth, setbacks and sound planning. Click here to see the complete illustrated history of Henry's.

Like many immigrants, Harry simplified his name, changing it to Harry Stein. In 1909, he put his skills as a watchmaker to use, establishing a small jewellery store - Henry & Company - a name he preferred to “Harry”. The business moved around the city from address to address, finally settling at 63 Queen St West.

Harry’s son Gerald joined the business in the 1940s and in 1945, father and son bought the building at 107 - 113 Queen West - across from what is now the new city hall. At the time, that stretch of Queen was taken up with many second hand stores and pawn shops. Henry & Company was no different, dealing in second hand goods including the odd camera, along with repairing watches.

Retailing was dominated for years by the big department stores like Eaton’s and Simpson’s with their control over name brand goods. But in the late 1950s changes were coming with the move to discount and speciality stores offering personal service and competitive prices. Cameras from Japan began to appear opening the market to small stores shut out from Leica, Zeiss and other well known brands. On the other hand, the watch and jewellery trade stagnated by the end of the decade.

Gerald and his wife Adele (Andy’s parents), bought out Henry & Company as it entered its second half century. The most pressing need facing the new owners was finding a way to make the business grow and thrive. They decided to add photographic equipment and supplies to their stock, starting with a few rolls of 8mm movie film. By the mid 1960s many more photographic products were added and sales were evenly split between photographic goods and jewellery/second hand goods.

When the new city hall was built, the city also expropriated the buildings along the south side of Queen including their building and the couple moved to 135 Church just above Queen. Over the next few years the business shifted more and more to photography leaving the jewellery and second hand goods trade behind.

Success meant adding more staff and increasing demands on Gerald. In 1971, he suffered a heart attack and felt it was time to sell. The new owners were his son Andrew and son-in-law Mark Wolfson along with three others. Andy and Mark handled day-to-day business while the other partners dealt with busines administration issues. The store now sold only photographic equipment and supplies.

In 1974, the company name was shortened to “Henry’s” with the new orange logo reflecting the modern era. The owners bought the building at 119 Church Street and the new Henry’s moved to its present location just south of Queen. Changes came fast as the economy blossomed - a wholesale division (Targit) was added and the store partnered with a retail operation in Chicago. These were heady times as affordable SLRs attracted newcomers to photography. Five more retail outlets were opened. A photo finishing business (Photo King) was bought. Then disaster struck.

A severe recession hit in 1982. Interest rates shot up. The photo finishing venture struggled. People lost interest in photography. The result was traumatic. Over extended, the company was forced to close all but its main store, sell its building at 119 Church and sell most of its other assets.

About three months later, Andy Stein’s offer to buy out the other partners was accepted and he and his wife Gaye became sole owners. For the next decade, Andy worked hard to rebuild Henry’s reputation for expert service, quality merchandise, and competitive prices. Along the way in 1985, Andy was able to repurchase the building at 119 Church Street.

Going through bankruptcy taught Andy much about the insolvency trade, lessons he put to good use a few years later as his competitors began to struggle. Several companies were bought for their merchandise and their physical locations were closed. When Queen Street Camera, just around the corner was bought, the location was used for expansion (it houses the point and shoot, video and printer departments). During the 1990s three more retail locations were opened in the GTA.

After suffering health problems in 1997, Andy brought in Ian Landy to share the load. Ian focussed on marketing and planning. Under Ian’s direction Henry’s grew to 28+ stores including ones in Winnipeg and Nova Scotia. Like his father, Andy sensed the need for change as times changed, this time as film photography moved to digital. He was ready and prospered even as some of his old suppliers and competitors faltered. Henry’s was helped by its commitment to keeping up with the latest technology and avoiding the photo finishing side of the industry. In its operations, Henry’s has embraced training, sound infrastructure and up to date information technology. Operational efficiencies plus a staff of well trained professionals are helping Henry’s expand. Its more recent ventures include the School of Imaging, and acquisition of Headshots and joneshouse.

After Andy finished telling the history of Henry's, Ren introduced three accessories for the digital photographer: Clickfree, photo GPS and Viveza (these links take you to the respective Henry's page. The links that follow take you to the vendor sites). Digital images are saved as electronic files making back up critical - there are no negatives to fall back on! Clickfree will scan a drive and copy files of selected types. Each time the device is plugged in, it searches out changes and does an incremental update. The device is sold with a large built-in hard drive or as a cable and dongle to connect to any external drive.

photo GPS is so popular that Ren had no sample to show us. The gadget fits in a camera’s flash shoe and records the GPS coordinates each time a picture is shot. When the images are downloaded to your computer, run the photoGPS software and the photoGPS file adds location detail to each image’s EXIF data, eliminating the need to manually note the location information during the shoot. Programs like iPhoto can use this data to display the location where each of your photos was taken on a map of the world.

Viveza is a software plugin for Photoshop, Lightroom and Aperture. It simplifies the tedious job of masking to isolate an object from the background in order to improve contrast, or adjust brightness or colour - imagine the Photoshop work needed to separate a model’s hair from the background and it is easy to see the value of Viveza.

When Ren and Andy finished answering questions from the floor - I was surprised at the amount of interest shown in digital issues - Janet distributed a gift to each attendee - a fabric shopping bag (we are in Toronto where shops must charge for plastic bags making reusable cloth bags very desirable) with some mementos of the anniversary including a copy of a 1950s snap of the store at 113 Queen West and a sturdy anniversary camera strap.

Henry's in colour
1979 catalogue
1979 catalogue
Digital - Clickfree
Photo GPS
Digital - Photo GPS
Viveza plug-in
Digital -Viveza

This page was designed in Dreamweaver CS4 on an iMac running OS X 10.6 (Snow Leopard). Unless otherwise noted, images on this page were taken with a Sony F828 digital still camera and subsequently adjusted in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom V2.3 and Photoshop CS4. Presentation images are ©2009 by Henry's and may not be used with out their permission. Contents and all other images are ©2009 by the Photographic Historical Society of Canada and may be used freely provided the source is clearly indicated. Copies of photographs displayed during this presentation may not be used without the copyright holder's permission. Contact PHSC at if you would like more information on the items discussed on this page.

Bob Carter

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