I’ve lived in Koreatown (on and off) for about over 3 years now and if there’s one thing I know about this little section of Los Angeles is that there are so many things you can do.
From the countless Korean BBQ spots, dive bars, karaoke places, a multi-story driving range, the Wiltern, 2 Denny’s, 2 Ralph’s, the Shatto lanes, let’s not forget, Jollibee and many more. It’s easy to miss the little mom and pop shops that occupy the spaces in between all these bigger businesses. From that shop that sells toys right behind the lock & key, to the donut shop in the corner of Normandie and 6th, the small locksmith stall along Western, and not to mention the good variety of bodegas and liquor stores all over the neighborhood.
But I’m here to talk about this little one-hour photo studio off Beverly Blvd. that took the internet by storm thanks to an unlikely pit stop by one of music’s up and coming stars.
When I moved to this side of Koreatown a little over a year and a half ago, I did what every new resident in the area would do. Look for the closest Chinese take out spot and I found one in the corner of Normandie and Beverly. Through the year of living here, I’ve walked to that same Chinese restaurant so many times and on my walks home I would always see Tom’s One-Hour Photo.
Admittedly I didn’t really pay much attention to it coz I wasn’t sure if they developed film there and I always developed at Gold’s (which was also in K Town) anyways. My first encounter with the interior of the place was when I was unlocking a Bird scooter in front of the shop and I decided to ask if how much their Kodak film was.
Fast forward to a couple of days ago, her royal highness Kacey Musgraves posted a photoset which sent her entire social media following to a trip back in time.
In the post, she mentioned that she and her sister needed to find a quick one-hour photo spot and they randomly bumped into the wonderful world that is Tom’s One-Hour Photo. The sisters had such an incredible time over at Tom’s that they made an Instagram page for the shop and overnight, their photos and the page went viral. Almost overnight the page got a 39K followers.
And like anything that goes viral, I saw the post and right away knew where that place was. And the fact that it was a couple of blocks away from me just made me more curious about whats going on. So I grabbed some undeveloped rolls of film and walked over to Tom’s.
To my surprise, there was nobody in there and when I got in the shop, Tom just gave out the most welcoming vibe and greeted me with a smile on his face. Since there wasn’t anybody there, we chatted a little. He mentioned that he’s been doing this since ’91 and he also mentioned how at one point business was popping but coz of the digital age, the business dropped. He gave me my ticket and told me to come back tomorrow.
When I came back the next day, I got there a little early and like the previous day, his welcoming vibe was very present. He told me he remembered me and that my film wasn’t quite ready and said that he got swamped with appointments (of course I knew that, just wanted to try my luck). So I went around and did some errands and when I got back, I bumped into an old friend. Then later found out that Tom was her uncle.
She introduced me and told him I was a photographer (or a band guy, one of those things) and he got super excited. He gave me the film scans I ordered and he ran back to prepare his studio. I snapped a couple of photos while I was there and as the place started getting packed, I headed home. The hype indeed was real.
With everything that has happened to this little shop at the edge of Koreatown. I can’t help but think how incredible the power of social media can be. Literally a few days ago, Tom was probably just going about his normal day and not expecting Kacey and Kelly would come into his shop and change his life forever.
Of course, you can’t write off the other mom & pop shops struggling to stay afloat all across the city or even the country and I personally think what Kacey Musgraves did should serve as a lesson that social media ain’t all bad and when used right, it could change someone’s life for the better.
You don’t have to be Kacey Musgraves to do this, you can have 150 followers or 15 million followers, as long as you go out and support local businesses, and post about them. You might just give these people the boost they deserve.
As for Tom’s One Hour Photo, I am hopeful that this won’t just be a thing that will be gone in a week but by the looks of it, I think that little Instagram post will keep him busy for a while.
All that’s left to say now is, thanks, Kacey and Kelly!