By Dan Hiner
BOARDMAN, Ohio — Jim Yankush didn’t know his son, Robby, had an eye for photography. Turns out it runs in the family, even if it skips a generation.
Jim Yankush is the president of YM Camera in Boardman. Robby Yankush is the manager and directs daily operations of his father’s company.
Pete Yankush, Jim Yankush’s father, opened the Youngstown Microfilm Co. in 1951. He took X-rays from St. Elizabeth and Northside hospitals and produced microfilm. But he always had a passion for photography. Eventually, his passion led him to trade X-rays and microfilms for prints and negatives in 1972. The company changed its name in 2008.
“I never really was into photography,” Jim Yankush says. “But I loved the business end of it.”
Jim joined his father’s business in 1977. Robby joined the family business after returning from Baldwin Wallace University in 2015.
One day, Robby Yankush asked if he could shoot with a film camera kept in his father’s office. He was told to take photos with a digital camera, but he was persistent and asked again. That’s when the elder Yankush realized his family’s love of photography had been passed down to his son.
“That’s what he does to relax, is shoot pictures,” Jim says. “It just skipped a generation.”
“It’s kind of the best of both worlds,” Robby says. “I love the business and I love photography. I love sharing my passion with others.”
YM Camera hosts photography classes for all experience levels. It also focuses on social media, trade-in opportunities and online shopping.
The company began setting record sales in 2016 and sales have continued to increase. Jim Yankush says when the final 2019 tally is in, he expects another record high.
YM Camera began online sales in 2018, and approximately 15% of sales come from its website, YMCamera.com. Last year, the company was named Digital Imaging Reporter’s 2019 E-tailer of the Year.
“We were featured in all our camera store publications,” Jim says. “I’d say we started about two years ago seriously selling online.”
The second floor of the building was designed to hold extra merchandise. The extra level was completed in 2018, costing roughly $100,000. Instructor Terry Clark, a veteran professional photographer, was hired to teach classes.
Before working at YM Camera, Clark worked for The New York Times and a few other newspapers. Clark’s most memorable assignment was photographing President Gerald Ford.
When a press corps member said the 17-year-old Clark looked young, “I promptly looked up at him, smiled and said, ‘Yeah, this is the first time I ever shot a president,’ ” Clark recalls saying.
Following a brief lecture from the Secret Service, Clark was allowed into the press corral. Ford was the first of three presidents he photographed.
Other notable photos include the former president of Poland, Lech Welesa, and the late actor Walter Matthau. Clark was also the set photographer for “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.”
Eventually, he felt it was time to change endeavors. After negotiating with YM camera, he agreed to teach classes and occasionally sell products.
“I’ve always been about just having fun. And if you’re not having fun, then why are you doing it?” he asks. ”This is one of the most exciting parts of my career.”
YM Camera offers free public classes and paid private lessons. The class schedule and a link for private sessions are listed on the company’s website.
The services the business provides have changed, and so has its customers. Smartphones can take photos as well as some $150 point-and-shoot cameras, eliminating the need for them, Jim says.
Now, the customer base consists of people venturing into professional photography. Customers work as freelancers or for local businesses and need brand names such as Canon and Nikon, as well as the required accessories.
“The market has changed. And fortunately, we’ve changed with it,” Jim says.
Jim spends some time away from the store. He said he’ll always remain a part of the operation, but joked that he likes going to Florida.
Robby handles inventory orders and the day-to-day operation, but he still looks to his father for advice.
“There’s a lot riding on it,” Robby says. “We’re going to be celebrating 70 years pretty soon. He’s still an asset and a resource. And we have an incredible working relationship.”