By Leslie Williams Johnson
These days, a bricks-and-mortar photo lab, matchmaking service or bookstore, all within a few miles of one another, tend to stand out a little.
Although sharing photographs, buying books and dating have fostered huge Internet businesses, a few local ones hang on. Although their physical presence may go against the current tide of the expanding digital world, the owners of these businesses say they thrive in large part because of two things that never go out of style: a personal touch and old-fashioned customer service.
According to a Business News Daily article last year, a number of businesses that seemingly phased out due to economic changes have re-emerged, including milk, ice and grocery delivery.
But unlike some “comeback” businesses, Dunwoody Photo, Phoenix and Dragon Bookstore, and matchmaking service Single Atlanta didn’t exit the scene. They rolled with it.
Candace Apple, owner of Phoenix and Dragon at 5531 Roswell Rd. NE, said in 2008, the year that book sales fell, sales of tumbled stones went up at her store.
Phoenix and Dragon, first established in 1987 in a Hammond Drive bungalow, is “high touch not high tech,” Apple said. The store is a cornucopia of metaphysical and spiritual books and gifts, as well as candles, tumbled stones, oils, incense and more. It also offers psychic readings, meditation classes and other events every month. It hopes to sell some products online by Nov. 1.
Apple said for many people, the 5,500-square-foot store is a sanctuary in times of distress, or even a meeting place for others on a spiritual journey. “People want to talk to real people,” Apple said. “Our staff is here because they love these things. People can meet people here. It’s become a community.”
And even though Dunwoody Photo is only about 18 months old, owner Michael Beattie has focused his 15 years of experience at Wolf Camera “to make sure that people have a place that does great quality printing.”
The store at 5588 Chamblee Dunwoody road processes film as well as digital photos and provides a number of other photographic services. One early fall afternoon, Beattie invited a customer to come behind the counter and look at images on his computer screen as they talked through the details of a photo editing project.
At Dunwoody Photo, you’ll also find photo albums and frames, light tables and loops to look at negatives, and staff assisting customers with technical issues at the print lounge kiosks, fielding their questions.
“The service is extremely appreciated,” said customer Donna Hiller, from the kiosk one afternoon. “The personal touch means a lot.”
Beattie, a former manager of camera stores in Dunwoody, Sandy Springs and Alpharetta, said his store’s services aim to get people to move their photos out of the camera – whether it’s digital or film-based.
“It’s important to do something with your pictures for the future,” Beattie said.
At Single Atlanta in Sandy Springs, twin sisters Lisa Lyngos and Leisha Murphy don’t use complicated algorithms in their matchmaking service, which they have been doing since 1998. Lyngos said Single Atlanta is the largest privately owned matchmaking service in the Southeast, with the largest singles database in the Southeast.
“We have always loved meeting people, talking to them, and finding out about the things they care about,” Lyngos said via email. “Their values. Their dreams. Their stories. We also have a natural intuition about people that translates to a simple ability: matching people together… and in the process, making their relationship dreams come true. Our successful track record of matching couples who end up in long-term relationships and marriage is what sets us apart.”
Social media and dating sites have not changed Single Atlanta’s approach to matchmaking, Lyngos
“Sure, the technology may create opportunity… but it’s revealing a new need for connection that’s more urgent than ever. We don’t use any complicated computer algorithms. After all, how can a computer really understand your values, your preferences, your desires… your story? When it comes to finding love, we believe in a personal touch.”
She went on to say that clients seek Single Atlanta because it meets the needs of clients actively looking for a relationship — “not just casually ‘testing the waters’ like so many people using online dating services,” she said.
She said clients also seek Single Atlanta because of the personal service, which includes regular interaction and getting to know clients’ hopes and dreams; no photos plastered all over the Internet; background checks; no wasted time.
Last but not least, 16 successful years of matchmaking is a big plus.
“We only suggest matches with individuals we truly believe meet your specific criteria. You will be dating for chemistry, because the compatibility has been covered,” Lyngos said.