Worse yet, the ad is promoting a bogus "collectible" -- genuine $2 bills with a sticker saying "Wisconsin" -- for the low, low price of about $15 apiece. I guess we should be happy there's no mention of the Brooklyn Bridge. This scam has been thoroughly debunked. Here's our story from March. Don't fall for it this time, either.
Or, send me just $5 -- you save 67% !! -- and I'll write the name of any state you want! on a $2 bill. and send it to you. No limit; buy as many as you like! A complete set for each of your grandchildren! (+Shipping and Handling) Call our toll-free number; operators are standing by...
Actually, there's a serious side to this story -- beyond the warning to simply ignore this ad from the impressively named World Reserve Monetary Exchange -- and that is the precipitous decline of newspaper advertising over the past few years, and what it means. According to figures from the Newspaper Association of America, U.S. newspapers' print and online ad revenue dropped 27.2% in 2009 -- a loss of about $10 billion overall. Total newspaper ad revenues have fallen to where they were in 1986; how'd you like to live today on the salary you earned 24 years ago?
A number of newspapers and magazines have folded; all the rest are cutting expenses and scrambling to get by one way or another. So it should come as no surprise when that leads to the acceptance of hinky advertising like the $2 bill scam that would have been rejected in more prosperous times. Or the loss of journalists everywhere, and the out-sourcing of even key services (the Kenosha News is now printed by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel).
Sometimes, too, the pain is shifted to local, unrelated businesses, as newspapers scramble to earn any bucks they can, even from work they once disdained ... like photo restoration? Yes, in what must be the most minor of sidelines -- and perhaps even a distraction to the paper's three remaining photo-journalists -- the Journal Times has entered the photo restoration business.
To the dismay of Douglas Wick -- the mustachioed, pony-tailed, sometimes-dressed-as-Uncle Sam proprietor of Main Street's Olde Tyme Photography store, who's been doing photo restoration for the past 26 years. Longer, actually; Doug's father, Ray, opened his first photo business in Racine in 1946, located at the Venetian Theatre, 507 Main St. Doug worked for his dad since childhood, "as a grasshopper emptying garbage cans." After Ray sold the business in 1983, Doug opened his own store in 1984 at 303-303 1/2 Main St. (in what had been a cheese and sausage store called Port Gilbert), using mostly borrowed and scrounged equipment. "I had nothing. I was making popcorn and eating popcorn. I had just the front part of the store, lots of recycled stuff. The camera was borrowed, as were the trays, the enlarger."
Doug Wick at Olde Tyme Photography, with his trusty 4x5 camera
He did portrait photography as well as photo restoration: copying and restoring photos, air brushing out defects from customers' old pictures.
And now he feels threatened by the Journal Times, a former customer (and the medium in which he placed much of his advertising, when he could afford to.) Looking around his three-part store (He answers phones like this: 'Common Scents, Pack 'n Ship, Olde Tyme Photos.'), Wick says, "It's like a circus in here. And while I know all about taming the lions, the latest sock in the gut is a media that can't survive on its own, but wants to destroy everything in its path."
OK, that's a bit hyperbolic. Even Wick concedes the point. Still, he says, "Just because their media is dying, why take down somebody else's market? Who else will they attack next?"
Photo restoration used to be an artist's domain, done with paint and airbrush. Now, like so much else, it's gone digital; every computer comes with at least basic photo retouching software. Wick, who used to use a 4x5 sheet film camera to make a glossy, high-resolution copy of photos for retouching artists to airbrush, and then re-photograph the result on sepia-tone fiber-based paper, has been digital for nine years. "Restoration has always been a good component of my business," he says. Less so now -- and he fears even less than that in the future, now that the Journal Times has entered the business and undercut the prices he hasn't raised for more than 10 years.
"They scan negatives for 29 cents," he says. "They have the equipment to do it and make a nickel. I have to charge 60 cents to make a dime. They have all the technology. They don't have to pay for advertising. They have people there anyway; keep 'em busy."
Wick said he called someone at Walgreens, which does a lot of photo developing (for those few Luddites who still use something called film), and photo printing for many digital photography hobbyists, looking for an ally against the Journal Times. "But Walgreens doesn't care," he said. His contact there merely shrugged and said, "That's competition."
Says Wick: "That's 'big' vs. 'big.' It's different for the little guy." Which, of course, it is... as little retailers have known for decades. Wick knows the drill: "Mom and Pop opened a small grocery just to be able to feed their family. Then Kohl's and Kroger came in and all those little corner grocery stores are gone. Open Pantry is a big business; their size and power drives out all the others and takes over.
"It used to be Elmwood Shopping Center, then that was put down by Regency Mall. Then the outlet malls came along, and now the internet is eating up everyone's market share."
Wick knows there's nothing he can do. He's tried calling the powers-that-be at the Journal Times, but doesn't really expect any satisfaction. A display shows before-and-after examples photos he's restored. You'd never know the original had been torn into half-a-dozen pieces. "We do better work than everyone else. With us, it's done right," he says.
But for how long?
Is there really a villain here? Just as Wick bought the adjoining Common Scents soap and fragrance store in 1987, and later added Pack 'n Ship to his Olde Tyme Photo business -- he runs them all simultaneously, by himself -- the Journal Times is also forced to become entrepreneurial in areas far removed from its core mission (whether you see that mission as disseminating news or selling advertising).
Meanwhile, from different edges of Downtown, both continue scratching out a living. Realistically, Racine needs both to survive.