Decades of film camera repair drawing to a close on Mission’s Johnson Drive

Clarence and Betty Gass in their Johnson Drive repair shop.
Clarence and Betty Gass in their Johnson Drive repair shop.

For more than 35 years, Clarence Gass has been repairing cameras in downtown Mission, but that run is about to come to an end.

Gass and his wife, Betty, are closing up shop this month on Johnson Drive where they have been since 1979. All of that time, and even before he opened the Johnson Drive shop, Gass has been repairing film cameras – every kind imaginable.

The walls of the repair shop are emptying out now in anticipation of the last day in business. But the shelves have been filled not just with cameras in for repair, but also cameras that Gass bought and sold. While it was never a main part of the business – the money always came from repair – Gass picked up some rarities and unusual cameras. An 1894 large format may have been among the oldest. And a 1950s Robot camera that automatically advanced the film was an unusual camera ahead of its day.

“Sometimes people lay them (cameras) on the counter and say, ‘these are yours,'” Gass says. Often that happened when they were cleaning out an estate.

Digital photography changed the repair business which gradually declined over the years. Gass can work on digital, but limits what he does with it. “There is no quality,” says Gass, who is clearly no fan of the digital revolution. “It will never get to the pixel (density) of film.”

Even before his decades on Johnson Drive, Gass worked in camera repair. It has been a life-long venture that he always loved, slide projectors and video cameras included. In his day, he repaired television station cameras as well.

Gass calls himself a “dinosaur” for staying with film cameras. But a dwindling few independents are still in the business. Even as the boxes are being taken out the door, Betty says, she gets five or six calls a day from people who need a camera fixed before the holidays. He will still do some limited repair work in retirement.

Running also has been part of his life. He completed 69 marathons over the years, the last one a few years ago when he was in his late 60s. He has done ultra-marathons and run his age on occasion. That doesn’t several one-day treks at Pike’s Peak and the Grand Canyon.

And his favorite camera: the Leica M3 (produced 1954-67). “You knew you had quality,” Gass says.