Calumet: Sweet Home Chicago
Calumet has a long and proud affiliation with the city of Chicago.
Our company name, which is derived from the French word for the ceremonial peace pipe used by the American Indians and roughly translates to “honest trader,” is actually based upon the company’s original telephone exchange, Calumet, from our South-Loop location. Calumet began in 1939 as a small, Chicago-based manufacturing company making stainless-steel darkroom trays and sinks. Since its inception Calumet has evolved into an international source for fine imaging tools throughout the United States and Europe but we still have a large part of our heart here in the Windy City.
Calumet became the first photographic company to sell nationwide, direct to the end user, and when our manufacturing business took off during World War II, the company moved to a larger, north-side location on Clark Street, where we became one of the largest suppliers of darkroom equipment in the country.
In the mid 1960’s, Calumet decided to expand its presence into larger markets on both coasts, and opened showrooms in the Empire State Building in New York City, and on North La Brea Avenue in Los Angeles. By this time, Calumet had also expanded into view camera manufacturing and the distribution of electronic flash equipment. Eventually, Calumet moved its headquarters to the Chicago suburb of Elk Grove Village, and, 10 years later, to nearby Bensenville.
By the early-‘80s, we closed our New York and Los Angeles showrooms, to concentrate on expanding our product selection to include an entire Photographer’s Catalog of top-brand photographic products, including brands like Canon, Nikon, Hasselblad, Mamiya, Beseler and Omega. At the time, our only retail location was at our corporate headquarters and warehouse in Bensenville, IL. When we were comfortable with this transition, it was time once again to reconsider retail expansion.
After re-entering the photo marketplace in both New York and Los Angeles, we set our sights on finding a new local location that would be more convenient for Chicago’s professional photographers. This eventually came in the form of a surprise solution when long-time Chicago retailer, Standard Photo, was put up for sale and Calumet purchased them. Standard Photo’s space was located on the busy southeast corner of Chicago Avenue and Rush Street, we decided to relocate the store into a quieter neighborhood on West Erie Street and rename it Calumet.
Our store remained on Erie until 1998 when the decision was made to relocate our warehouse back to Chicago from Bensenville, along with part of our administrative departments, and we moved to our current location on Goose Island, which as anyone in Chicago knows, is a bit off the beaten path.
And just like dominoes, one move generated another. Along with the downsizing of our Bensenville facility, we sought out a new retail location in the western suburbs and decided on Oak Brook. The Oak Brook store provided our first high-profile location and has since become one of our most successful stores.
As the world turns, it turns in circles, and Calumet just recently had the opportunity to return to downtown Chicago by purchasing a store at the intersection of Chicago Avenue and Rush Street. We couldn’t be happier! We are thrilled to be back in the heart of Chicago’s retail district, and looking forward to sharing our photographic passion with many new customers.