Time capsule! Did we stumble upon the last remaining Fotomat?

Fotomat was a chain of photo-developing stores that began in the 1960s. By the 1980s, there were more than 4,000 of these drive-through outlets in North America.

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So, there we were at the corner of Sheppard Avenue and Bathurst Street in north Toronto on a recent Sunday morning covering the family-friendly Walk with Israel march (and a very unfriendly demonstration by the pro-Hamas hooligans chanting for genocide.)

As we unpacked our gear in the plaza parking lot, we gazed upon what seemed to be a burnt-out shotgun shack. But the shape of this structure struck a familiar chord. And sure enough, it turned out to be an ancient retail relic: namely, a long-defunct Fotomat outlet.

Fotomat was a chain of photo-developing stores that began in the 1960s. By the 1980s, there were more than 4,000 of these drive-through outlets in North America. The concept was simple: you drove up to the window, handed the friendly attendant your rolls of film, and then returned a few days later to pick up the developed prints.

We get it: there are undoubtedly members of a certain generation – perhaps two generations – who have just read the preceding paragraph and are still shaking their heads in disbelief, trying to make sense of it all.

But in once upon a time, long before the emergence of the smartphone, photography was very much a physical thing as opposed to a digital exercise.

Alas, the demise of Fotomat came via a one-two punch. Big box stores started to get into the photofinishing business, undercutting Fotomat’s prices. But the biggest blow came via the digital camera revolution and the advent of the smartphone. No longer did consumers need a 35mm camera and rolls of film and have to visit a photofinishing shop: everything was now on a phone, photography was easy-peasy. And much like the once-ubiquitous Blockbuster Video, the once-mighty Fotomat faced its extinction event.

Indeed, it's been decades since we happened upon a Fotomat shop. And even the sight of a long abandoned, severely dilapidated unit in a plaza parking lot brought back waves of nostalgia. Like leg warmers, fanny packs, and cassettes festooned with New Wave music, a Fotomat shop is surely an icon of the ’80s.

And in a sense, given the state of the world today, this edifice made us long for what was perhaps the most iconic vehicle of the 1980s: namely, a DeLorean DMC-12, preferably one equipped with the uber-rare Flux Capacitor option.

We wouldn’t use the DeLorean to cruise the mean streets, but rather, to go back in time some 40 years ago, when life was unarguably more… normal. We’d return to a period in which radical transgenderism was unheard of; Ronald Regan was occupying the White House; music was festooned with harmony and pleasant lyrics; and the idea of hooligans roaming the streets of the Western world chanting for genocide would be the stuff of some dystopian science fiction novel.

Call us foolishly sentimental, but we think life was better in the ’80s; unarguably a kinder, gentler time. Sure, remaining parked in that decade would mean being deprived of smartphones and digital photography. But all things considered, we’d gladly make such a sacrifice...

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