top of page

Harvey Johnson

The following update comes to us from Harvey Johnson, who recently retired:

After 39 years I have retired from Supervalu. I was one of the 800 people that were cut in the last work-force reduction. In those 39 years, I have seen the rise and fall of retail photo finishing. I started as a business extern while still in college in 1973.

I worked the camera department at Osco #806 in Fargo, North Dakota. The 110 camera had just come out as well as the SX-70 Polaroid. We had a full line up of slide and movie projectors. Hand held calculators had just come out for the early adopter high price of $99.

From Fargo I became assistant manager at Osco #894 Elkhart, Indiana and later assigned to Crest Photo in Elgin, Illinois. Ah, remember those great days when we actually have Photo Coordinators calling on all of our stores and teaching and training the photo staff? Next Day service, initiated by Dave Gillis, catapulted us to the head of the pack in retail photofinishing.

I had the privilege of working for Dave Maher in New England as Advertising Manager at #625 Mt. Auburn office in Cambridge, Massachusetts and then later was asked to run the Alves Photo Labin Braintree, Massachusetts for several years. It was at Alves that I had the pleasure of hiring the young photo clerk, Gerry Pearsall. New England is where I met and married Lucy in 1979. We had three wonderful Norwegian/Armenian children, Jessica, Jennifer and Jeffrey, who are now all out of college and pursuing their careers In 1988 our family made the cross country move to Burbank, California where I ran the Crest Lab which had become one of the largest photofinishing labs in the country. At that time we were processing up to 50,000 rolls in a single night.

After selling our labs to Kodak in 1996, we installed 1,600 photo labs across the country under the leadership of Mike Masten, director of Photo Finishing. That format was also very successful until the advent of digital photography. At that point I worked with Ken Walker developing our own Digital Photo Kiosk becoming one of the first Retailers in the country to provide touch screen technology to Photo Customers. After the Supervalu merger, the digital equipment changed to the Kodak version. Business started to decline as the improved quality and reduced price of digital equipment virtually eliminated the need for conventional 35mm film. With higher quality home printers the need for retail photofinishing was further reduced. Now that Kodak has declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy the future of Supervalu’s participation in this category is coming to a close.

I was fortunate to spend almost my entire career making priceless memories for millions of customers. The best part of this experience has been the privilege of working with hundreds of Alumni Club members. The leadership of the Osco/Sav-on management was outstanding and only in retrospect can be fully appreciated. I am looking forward to spending time with my family and following my son’s professional baseball career as has been previously reported in this newsletter.

Gary Hunstiger Congratulations on your recent retirement after 39 years of outstanding service to Osco/Sav-on and their customers. Our drug store careers go back a long way; I remember meeting you in the early 1970’s in the Cambridge, Massachusetts office when you worked for Paul Korian in advertising. Our paths crossed many times during our careers and I was always impressed with your photo finishing knowledge and leadership in that aspect of our business. I wish you and Lucy the best as you start a “new roll of film”. Enjoy your new found retirement.

Ken Walker February this year brought the end of another great era for Osco Drug. Harvey Johnson has retired after 39 absolutely amazing years of service to Jewel/Osco and all of the successor companies that followed. He brought to the table a North Dakota work ethic and put in countless hours in the ongoing interest of moving the photo industry ahead. I attended Assistant Manager Meetings with Harvey in 1973 in Bismarck, North Dakota. Over the years our paths crossed many times and we became great friends. While I was working with the Photo Kiosk Project, Harvey and I attended a number of the Industry Conventions in Orlando and Las Vegas Photo Marketing Association (PMA). It was here that I learned just how far reaching Harvey’s contributions to the industry really went. He was so incredibly respected by all of the people from across the Retail Industry and Photo Industry. If they wanted advice on many things they would come to Harvey. He was truly an unsung hero that managed in an area that contributed 10% of our volume for many of those years. I wish Harvey and Lucy the absolute best as they come into this new era. Thanks for all you both have done.

Gerry Pearsall I worked for Harvey in the late 1980s as a photo coordinator at Alves Photo in Braintree, Massachusetts. Unlike Crest Photo, which focused solely on servicing Osco stores, the Alves photo lab serviced Osco and other chains (Star Market, Douglas Drug, Video Vendor, Paperama) as well as over a hundred independent drug stores and other dealers. Service and quality furnished by the lab had to be very high as these accounts could pull their business from Alves at any time. Making the best use of the handed-down equipment from the Elgin lab, Harvey worked with the production team at the lab to improve quality and reduce defects. He also did a very impressive job designing marketing plans, tailoring unique programs to meet the needs of the independents serviced by the New England lab. Many of these marketing ideas were later instituted nationally by Osco and Sav-on. I remember Harvey as having the terrific ability to motivate people, getting them enthused about selling photo products and serving customers. Photofinishing sales for stores in the Eastern region far exceeded photo sales in Chicagoland and Central region stores when Harvey ran the Alves operation. It seems an appropriate tribute by Kodak that the company had no option but to declare bankruptcy when they learned Harvey was going to retire!

Dave Gillis When I think about the success of Crest Photo I recall what an important part Harvey Johnson played in that success. Harvey was a great idea guy and provided many of the marketing ideas that produced the excellent sales growth of Crest over many years. Because he took an active interest in plant operations and learned that part of the business he was the ideal person to run the Alves Photo operation in New England which was purchased in 1980. Within two years Alves earnings accounted for more than the purchase price. Later Harvey moved to Burbank, California to become General Manager of our second largest plant. As with Alves he made this operation extremely efficient and very profitable. Harvey Johnson’s dedication and work ethic produced outstanding results in all his assignments. Our success in all aspects of the photo category can be directly tied to Harvey Johnson.
18 views0 comments


bottom of page