"It's stuff like this," Jay Walla says, holding up his cell phone. According to Walla, who has run Roach Gallery/Roach Photos for the last 33 years, the digital age of photography and the accessibility of things like camera phones have propelled the steady decline of his family business. This Friday, February 27, Roach Photos will close its doors after eighty years at 860 Broadway.
Opened in Lakewood in 1935 by Jay Walla's great-uncle, Otto Roach, Roach Photos has been serving Colorado as a full-service photo lab and fine art gallery ever since, moving to Broadway decades ago. "I'm a darkroom technician — but that's history now," Jay says with a slight laugh. Though he has been around photography as an art and business his whole life, Jay says he started out selling auto parts — but soon realized there wasn't much of a career in it. His father, Dennis "Dutch" Walla, had purchased Roach Photos from his brother-in-law Otto in 1959; Jay asked to come apprentice under his parents and, after about six months, began working there full-time. In the '80s, he took over the business from his dad and has been running it with his brother, also named Dennis, ever since. The gallery they created in the front of the space in 2002 snagged a Best of Denver award the next year.
But time and technology took a toll. "We just never bounced back after 2008," says Jay. The ongoing effects of the recession, coupled with the swift changes in the photography business, finally persuaded the brothers that it was time to close Roach Photos. The shop will be open to the public for one last day of official business on Friday, February 27. After that, Jay and Dennis will be finishing up some orders; they may reopen the Roach Photos doors in April for a going-out-of-business sale.
What will ultimately become of the space? The Walla brothers own the building — in fact, they own much of the 800 block of Broadway — and Jay says there are no definite plans for it yet.
Here's a sampling of photos from the Roach Photos collection, all taken by Otto Roach or Dutch Walla — and an amazing documentation of Denver history.
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