Nico van der Horst has spent all his life around cameras and photography. His father was a renowned photographer who owned three camera stores in Leiden, and Nico spent much of his childhood learning the trade in his father’s stores. His father eventually sold his store on Doezastraat to Nico, who has owned and operated this location for the past 32 years. Nico’s store on Doezastraat is the last camera shop remaining in central Leiden, and the end of an era may be nearing, as Nico plans to retire at the end of this year. After a lifetime in the camera trade, he is ready for some free time. Nico, age 66, lives with his wife near Alphen aan de Rijn.
“I was born here on this street [Doezastraat], in my father’s photoshop that was on the other side of the street … You could say I’ve been on this street for 66 years. The store has been my own for the past 32 years.”
“There were seven children in our family … I was born here, but when we reached seven children the house above the shop [on Doezastraat] was too small and we moved.”
“My father was a photographer. He had three photo shops in Leiden … in 1985 he sold his shops to his children. This shop [on Doezastraat] went to me.”
“My sister and my brother each got one of my father’s stores … those businesses are now closed. My sister sold her business, and my brother also sold his shop. My brother is now a photographer … I’m the only one left with a shop.” At one time, there were 12 camera stores in Leiden; now there are only two.
“During our summer holidays, my sisters and my brothers had to help in the shop … we worked in my father’s shop and learned the business … we were able to start helping customers when we were 14 years old.”
Nico didn’t just sell cameras and equipment, he was also a professional photographer. “We had a photographic department here in the store … I also did work in Hilversum as a photographer … and I worked in another shop for my father as a studio photographer … we also worked for four newspapers, making photos for the newspapers.” Nico stopped doing photography professionally “when I bought this shop. My brother bought the photography department, and I bought the selling part of the business, and that’s the moment I stopped.”
What does Nico enjoy most about his work? “The people. That’s the point, talking with people. I also make prints, and that’s nice work. But it’s the contact with people that I appreciate most.”
As photography moved into the digital era, the amount of contact with customers has decreased. “In analogue times this was different. When you needed film, you came to the shop. Then you came back for development and printing. That’s visit number two. And then you had to pick up the prints and the developed film, and that’s visit number three … now with digital cameras, you sell a camera and you may never see them again. Sometimes I can do prints for a customer or sell them a tripod or something. But you don’t see the customers anymore … but I still have some regular customers.”
“The internet changed everything. It changed the way customers buy things … customers now come to me and say ‘I bought it on the internet. Can you help me?’” Nico now matches all the prices of cameras and other equipment in his store to prices found on the internet. “It’s all the same price as on the internet. You have to do that these days.”
Nico doesn’t see a bright future for neighborhood camera stores like his. “This will be difficult in the future … this kind of shop must be smaller … fewer cameras, but more prints, more frames, more work. That’s the only way to stay [viable]. The bigger camera warehouse stores are the future.”
Nico plans to retire at the end of 2018. “I’ve got 20 things I want to do. I want to go to several museums … I don’t have much free time now. That’s my problem. When I’m retired I’ll have more time.”
One project Nico hopes to accomplish when he has more free time is a book that his father planned but never started. “I’m going to work with my father’s negatives … he always said he would start a book, and when I’m retired maybe I’ll finish the book (laughs) … my father was never in his shop. He was a photographer, not a salesman … he’s famous now, and they named a park after him outside Leiden” at the end of the Voorschoterweg.
Nico’s father was also named Nico van der Horst. “Nico One was my father. I’m Nico Two. My son, Nico Three, lives in Ireland.”
What will become of his store when he retires? Neither his son nor his daughter is interested in taking over the business. “I hope there’s a colleague who works in the same way that I work with the customers” who will buy the store. “That’s because of my customers. For me, it’s not important, but for the customers, I hope it will be in the same way that I have always worked.”
The Nico van der Horst Foto en Video store is located at Doezastraat 22-24 in Leiden. More information, and online shopping is available at www.nicovanderhorst-foto.nl. An archive of Nico One’s photos is available at www.nicovanderhorst-foto.nl/index.php/foto-archief.