LANSDALE >> The final winner of the Lansdale Business of the Month award for 2017 is one that has helped area residents preserve the biggest moments of their lives for the better part of a century.
Four generations of the Seelig family have made Cardinal Camera into a family-owned fixture of the local business community, according to borough Economic Development Committee member Bruce Schwartz.
“They sell a full range of equipment — and trust me, you can still get better photos with a Canon or a Nikon than with an iPhone — but it’s as much about the moment as the gear,” he said.
“Kurt has loyal customers who tell him how they bought their first camera from his dad decades ago, and won’t buy from anyone but Cardinal,” said Schwartz.
The business that became Cardinal Camera originated nearly a century ago, when George Henry Seelig discovered a passion for the then-new technology of photography.
“While other kids delivered newspapers to houses, he went door to door shooting photographs of immigrant families, so they could send images of their successful lives back to the old country,” Schwartz said.
As he worked as a textile engineer and plant manager at silk factories including the Dexdale plant in Lansdale, George Henry grew tired of the expense of photo supplies, so he opened a shop in West Point in 1937 “mostly so he could buy supplies wholesale.”
“But Seelig Camera helped feed not just his passion, but the growing passion of countless others who were taken with the ability to take snapshots and capture the moment,” said Schwartz.
Throughout the years, George Henry drafted his son George Kimbro Seelig to run the business, and in the 1960s George Kimbro redesigned and expanded the company’s store, and rebranded the company to “Cardinal Camera,” largely because he liked the color red. George K. then handed the business off to son Kurt Seelig in the 1990s, as the business grew and changed from Polaroids and Brownies, flash bulbs and bars and film, and prints from film onto paper of all sizes, to today’s rapidly changing online industry.
“Kurt expanded the business to meet the online world: they match all prices, including from the internet, and have a shop on Amazon, and Kurt invested in growth, with five locations now from the Montgomery Mall to King of Prussia to North Carolina,” said Schwartz.
Through it all, their main store has stayed at 810 W. Second St. in Lansdale, and that’s where Cardinal not only offers the latest equipment and do-it-yourself kiosks, but also hosts classes and seminars on photo techniques and organizes trips to wildlife preserves and nature centers. Schwartz said he recently found a box of his late father’s photos and other memorabilia from World War II and combat during the Battle of the Bulge, which revealed a side of his father he had never seen before.
“He didn’t talk about those times, but I found photographs of him and his brothers in battle, the towns and tragedies he witnessed in Belgium, France, and Germany, and of course himself as a young man — with hair, which I never personally saw,” he said.
“Who were these people, beyond names scribbled on the backs of small black-and-white prints? What did they share? How did they survive? Those will remain mysteries, but those images will be passed down as family keepsakes, of moments captured, of a world long gone.”
As he spoke, Schwartz showed a slideshow of other images, long gone: the early years of Seelig Camera, and the more recent cameras and colors since switching the name to Cardinal, and George Henry, George Kimbro, Kurt, and the rest of the Seelig family — including Kurt’s four sons, being groomed to be the next generation — helping customers.
“It’s been said ‘If you have a fire in your house, you run out with your pictures.’ It’s a business that is helping people capture memories, and that’s what I enjoy: just helping people capture that right moment, with their child or whatever it is,” Kurt said.
“We’ve always enjoyed being in Lansdale, and the support this town gives small businesses. In this day and age, when it’s hard to stay around, a lot of camera stores in this whole country have gone out, we’ve really thrived in this town. We really appreciate it, and we love Lansdale,” he said.
Cardinal Camera is located at 810 W. Second St. in Lansdale and can be reached at (215) 855-4818, online at www.CardinalCamera.com, on Facebook at “Cardinal Camera” or on Instagram at “CardinalCamera.”