Waiting on Yury Pinkhasov was like waiting on a rock star. Pinkhasov is the owner of 86th Street Photo, one of the rare independent photo shops still in Manhattan.
Tough yet warm, smiley yet stern, the Russian-born proprietor of the Yorkville store maintains a doggedness that has kept his business open for over forty years.
“I like working with him,” says salesman Pari Khan on a recent early Thursday evening as the wait for Pinkhasov starts. “But he’s a perfectionist.”
86th Street Photo, which has stood between Second and Third Avenues for the past twenty years, reflects Pinkhasov’s meticulousness. The store is clean, almost prim, with photo scanning machines and black-leather stools lining the front window while cardboard cases for picture frames sit on the back shelves. Throughout the shop, mini trees dangle over the screens and give it a breezy air.
Just back to work from a three-day vacation, Pinkhasov did not want to talk to a reporter, but nonetheless seemed to want to give customers a pleasant shopping experience. Even though it was already after 6 p.m. and he hadn’t arrived yet, around ten people visited the shop before it closed at 9 p.m.
The procession started with a woman in her early sixties who stepped to the counter. “I was a model,” she tells Khan as soft pop music played overhead. “You wouldn’t believe how good I looked. I can’t believe it sometimes.”
“This is the good thing about working here,” Khan says. “I get to meet you and some other people.” A Pakistan native who moved to New York in ’95, Khan makes up for Pinkhasov’s rougher edges.
He met his boss in 2000, back when the shop was a few blocks down and when stores like it were drowning under the evolving technology of the new digital age. How the shop survived is not so much a mystery as proof of Pinkhasov’s tenacity. The counterpoint to this fierceness, and no small sign of the store’s endurance, is Khan’s gentle touch.
After the older woman leaves, saying she will “get another headshot for my passport” later, Khan nods and, if the next few minutes are quiet, the fracas of the modern photo shop begins.
“Okay, by today? Perfect,” a young woman says after Khan confirms that her photos will be ready by closing. Before another break, the phone rings and Khan’s co-worker, who before had been calmly cutting film, shouts, “Pari, pick up phone.”
“When can she pick up?” Khan asks his co-worker, referring to the woman on hold. “Ten minutes,” says his co-worker, handling a long strip of some sepia-tone.
“I’m an Artist”
Khan lives in Greenpoint where, he says, “a lot of film studios” are now and a part of Brooklyn that teems with young artists and photographers. They may not trek to 86th Street Photo but Khan, an FIT-educated textile designer, lends the shop his own refinement.
He’s not so much a salesman as an attendant, as when the next customer enters. “Hi, I need a couple of photos of me, please?” the full-bearded man says. “Okay, come in,” Khan answers and takes him to a chair and camera off to the side.
After taking care of the customer, who turns out to be from Istanbul and something of an art connoisseur, Khan gets a jab from his co-worker. “When people come and talk about paintings, you like to talk,” says the co-worker, now at another task in the back.
“I’m an artist. I like paintings,” Khan replies. At national chains like CVS or Best Buy, which stands just a few avenues up from 86th Street Photo, the customer doesn’t necessarily get Khan’s warmth.
Most of these stores, even a megalopolis like Costco with its cacophony of beeps, now have do-it-yourself machines which dispense photos within minutes. That’s fine. The sprinting New Yorker, running errands like a madman, may not even want to talk to the photo expert. The presence of people like Khan is certainly rare, even nice.
Finally walking in with his leather jacket hooked over his index finger and his face stony, owner Pinkhasov is a different matter. Heading straight to the backroom, he calls in Khan and his co-worker and, before they know it, all three men face a hacked computer system.
Conferring back there for several minutes, they return and huddle in the corner as if it’s the last play and everything is on the line. It is.
“Someone went into our computer,” Pinkhasov says, not at all willing to suffer fools, especially the ones who hacked into his shop. “I started this business in 1979,” he almost mutters, head to the ceiling as if some solution hangs there.
A photo king dealing with a crisis, he fends off any talking heads and goes back to work.