Sam Ellefson

Photography has come a long way since 1952, when the first Pioneer Camera Shop opened at Fifth Street and Mill Avenue in downtown Tempe. Located in the historic Laird and Dines Building, just north of what now is the Harkins Valley Art theater, the shop was the dream of two East Coast natives who turned a hobby into a thriving business.

Shop owners Dorothy and William Wood hailed from Bethel, Connecticut, where William made supplies for hat makers. But his true love was photography, which inspired the Woods to move their family to the fast-growing Phoenix area to start a business. William also was active in local politics, serving on the Tempe Community Council and the Tempe Action Council.

Pioneer Camera was an authorized Kodak dealer and sold film, camera equipment and accessories. It also hosted events organized by the Tempe Camera Club in its early years. A January 1953 story in The Arizona Republic announced the club’s first “field trip,” for which photographers would venture to Phoenix’s South Mountain Park to make photos. “Prizes will be awarded for the three best pictures taken on the outing,” the story noted.

The shop’s initial success led the Woods to expand in 1956. They opened a second location in the new A.J. Bayless Shopping Center, on the north side of Apache Boulevard just east of Terrace Road, in the spring — with their daughter, Patricia, as the manager of the new location. The above photo shows that shop, which became the headquarters of the business when it opened, according to newspaper reports.

And later that year, Pioneer Camera was among the founding tenants of another pioneering Tempe institution. The Tempe Center, built for $2 million (the equivalent of nearly $23 million today) on the southeast corner of Mill and University Drive, was considered the city’s first strip mall and was touted in newspaper ads as “a complete, modern shopping center for one of Arizona’s most important and fastest-growing areas.”

The business continued to thrive until the early 1960s, when the Woods sold it to Austin McAvoy and J.W. Malcolm, according to a bulk sales notice filed with Maricopa County. They and subsequent owners continued to serve area photographers from the Tempe Center location for decades to come. Today, though, as redevelopment transforms Tempe, about the only reminder of Pioneer Camera Shop’s existence is the Laird and Dines Building, which still stands along Mill.