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Helix Camera Closing After 49 Years

By Chloe Riley | February 20, 2013 8:02am

NEAR WEST SIDE — The president of Helix Camera has been shooting pictures since the last time the Chicago Cubs went to the World Series.

At just age 7, Paul Schutt already had a basement darkroom and knew his way around a camera.

“I’m probably one of the few that can remember them in a series,” the lifelong Cubs fan said of the 1945 Fall Classic.

Now 75, Schutt is closing Helix, 310 S. Racine Ave., so he can step away from pictures and enjoy another part of life.

“My wife said either retire or give me a divorce,” he said smiling. “And I can’t afford the divorce, so I’ll retire.”

Schutt started Helix in his fraternity house at the University of Chicago. Soon, business was booming and he dropped out of grad school to manage the place full time.

During Helix Camera's almost 50 years, the business had 14 different locations. Schutt specialized in underwater photography, and Helix could often be found at those conventions around the country.

When digital cameras became the rage about a decade ago, Schutt said he knew the industry was in for a dramatic change.

“What we thought at the time was that [the digital era] was going to happen faster than people realized. And it did,” Schutt said.

In the last five years, Helix has closed its camera rental section and seen sales drop.

The rise of digital photography combined with Chicago’s 10 percent sales tax has not been kind to the photography world, Schutt said.

“Everything now is just good enough and cheaper,” he said of mainstream photography.

Several employees have worked at Helix for more than 20 years. Roth Moy, who’s spent 40 of his 63 years with the business, got his start at Helix while doing window displays at the now defunct Altman Camera at 129 N. Wabash St.

Moy said without a doubt Schutt has been the reason he’s stayed at Helix.

“The boss has always been good to me. I’m going to stick to the end, as long as Paul needs me,” he said.

A public storage center is slated to take over the building on Racine. Helix will be open to the public through Saturday, with 60 to 90 percent off select camera bags, tripods and lighting equipment. The Helix website will stay up for at least another month.

Schutt said despite the closing, he’ll remain a photographer at heart. 

“I’ll still be involved and taking pictures,” he said. “There’s lots of things to be done.”