With more than 30 years at its Hope Street location, The Camera Werks is a veritable East Side institution, surviving all but a small handful of businesses in the district. Pat Zacks is its founder and sole proprietor, and although she technically lives in Pawtucket, she’s spent most of the last 30 years at the storefront.
The business grew out of a casual hobby: Zacks enjoyed photographing her then-small children using a simple 35mm handheld camera.
“I had time on my hands,” says Zacks, and she simply enjoyed “being creative.” But in 1981, she made the hobby official and started The Camera Werks out of her home. In 1987, she moved the business to Hope Street.
In its early years, the shop was completely dedicated to photography, with cases full of equipment, multiple employees and camera repair services. But as digital rose to prominence at the turn of the century and shopping moved online and to large chains, Zacks had to adapt. Some older equipment, film and accessories are still available for purchase in a case towards the back of the store – the section’s “now called vintage,” Zacks says. The street itself has changed significantly as well; more than 150 businesses have come and gone during Zacks’ time on Hope.
The overarching goal of Zacks’ business is “preserving memories,” whether through framing, storage or digital or analog photographs. The shop’s upper walls are lined with professional photographic portraits of celebrities, as well as natural vistas and landscapes by local photographers, including Jesse Nemerofsky and Brian Hall. The Camera Werks has hosted photography contests and awards ceremonies; the first one took place in 1999 in collaboration with East Side Monthly.
“We’ve always done networking here with local people who can share their knowledge and experience with the average customer,” Zacks says. “We’ve got a lot of talented people in this city.”
In addition to running the store, Zacks is a founding member and serves as president emeritus of the Pawtucket Arts Collaborative. She is chairperson of the Pawtucket Hall of Fame Committee and has helped to organize the Pawtucket Arts Festival, Slater Park Festival and the City of Pawtucket Annual Photo Contest. She continues to work with students in Pawtucket Public Schools, teaching them photography using 35mm disposable cameras.
If you had one wish to enhance life on the East Side, what would it be?
That everyone would continue to take photos and document their memories and cherish them. Photographic images are powerful tools; they take us to a different place or time and reveal individual stories. Young or old, everyone has a story to tell.