Community rallies behind beloved film developer, whose SJ business is in jeopardy

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Saturday, September 25, 2021
Beloved SJ film developer's business in jeopardy after flood
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A longtime film developer said repair work from a flood in Downtown San Jose is likely to threaten the future of his business, Foto Express.

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- Nearly one week after water flooded businesses along 7th Street in Downtown San Jose, a longtime film developer said repair work is likely to threaten the future of Foto Express.

We're often told a photo is worth a thousand words. If you ask customers at Foto Express, not enough can be said about longtime owner, Henry Chang.

"Super helpful, very nice, kind, generous," customer Julia Nichols told ABC7 News.

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Jorge Gomez, behind the popular Instagram account @sanjosefoos shared, "Henry, Foto Express, this is like a staple here."

Chang has been in business since 1987 and at the 7th Street location since 2016. Since then, he's developed an immeasurable amount of negatives- film, of course.

However, last Saturday, he experienced a "negative" no one saw coming.

San Jose Water (SJW) confirms an 8-inch cast iron main broke, subsequently sending water down the street and into storefronts along 7th.

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The company said its crews were onsite at 3 a.m. and water service was restored to customers by 1 p.m. the following day.

Crews are said to have stayed on-site until 6 p.m. to complete repairs and clean up.

SJW acknowledged leaks happen within the 2,400 miles of mains throughout the company's service area. A Corporate Communications Manager confirmed this particular main is scheduled to be replaced mid-2022.

Meantime, Chang told ABC7 News the aftermath is what has him anxious.

"They say the wall may be wet and so there's a bacteria," he explained. "So they have to cut the wall."

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Chang said his shop has been impacted by flooding three different times. He said before the September 18 flooding, there was an incident in December.

"This one is even more serious for me because all the way," he pointed at the length of his storefront. "From beginning to the end, they have to cut."

Chang fears any debris from repair work will damage specialized equipment. Specifically, machines that are used to process film, print and scan.

He said these particular items would be nearly impossible to replace.

"If the dust comes to the machine, I think I'm done," he told ABC7 News. "If I close, I have to retire."

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But members of the film photography community don't want to see his business shutter.

Customer Julia Nichols created a GoFundMe campaign to rally those who know Chang, for support.

Initially launched with a $10,000 goal, the campaign grew to more than $30,000 in just three days.

"When I found out about the flooding, I was like, 'What can I do to help?'"

Nichols said she picked up photography last year, and that Chang's services were highly recommended.

"How quickly he comes out with it, and how neatly and beautifully he just works through film," she described. "It shows."

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She said film photography is making a comeback.

"So it's important to try and keep this around as much as possible," Nichols continued. "Especially since people are finding a love for it again."

Jorge Gomez, behind @sanjosefoos on Instagram, amplified that awareness by posting to his platform.

Also a frequent Foto Express customer, he said Chang's small business is critical to the downtown core.

"This is like the bread and butter of what San Jose is," Gomez told ABC7 News. "Not no big tech company. They may provide jobs and this, that and the third, but this is the real bread and butter right here."

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Gomez said nothing really compares to the service offered and quality of Chang's work.

"Even the quick stuff, like at Costco, that's gone," he shared. "I got a film camera right here. So, to find someone else like that, that's not likely. And to be able to have someone as nice and as beautiful of a person like Henry... also not likely."

Gomez said he visited Foto Express in the aftermath of the flooding and recalled seeing much of Chang's equipment sitting on the sidewalk, outside of the store.

Many loyal customers said they hope the money will go towards improvements, updates and flood prevention measures around Chang's shop.

Though Chang admitted to ABC7 News, the stress of what the repair work may impact, is making it hard to see a future for Foto Express.

"A lot of people want me, 'Don't quit, don't quit,' I try my best," he said.