(Oct. 25, 2019) Ocean City government’s two-franchise beach photography bidding program is now a one-franchise system, or it will be if the City Council approves a final reading of an ordinance that will do away with the old approach.
The council on Monday voted to approve a first reading of the ordinance that would require bidders to make one offer of at least $225,000, rather than two, $150,000 minimum offers. The proposed change will move on to second reading and vote on Nov. 4.
This change came about on Sept. 10, when the council reviewed a bid of $76,250 made by Telescope Pictures co-owner Jonathan Cameron for the second beach photo franchise.
“Rather than retaining a two-franchise system with different minimum bid amounts, I felt it best to merge the franchise into one system,” City Clerk Diana Chavis said. “Having a two-franchise system, equal in all respects except for the minimum bid, would have established an unfair criteria for future bidding.”
Cameron, who now owns the soon-to-be singular beach franchise, said he and his wife/business partner Sam Cameron, were excited to continue the tradition of beach photos in Ocean City.
“We didn’t want this tradition to go away—my wife has been getting it [beach photos] done for her whole life, and I’ve been involved in the company for 20 years,” Cameron said.
Cameron got his start with Telescope Pictures in 2001 when he read a newspaper ad that said, “Live at the beach, make $10,000 and meet new friends.”
“I called, it was a 1-800 number, and it said, ‘Congratulations you’re going to be living at the beach this summer,’” he recalled.
He came to Ocean City, but was shocked to learn that he had not gotten the job, and had to participate in a tryout.
“At the end of the weekend, the owner [and the] manager brought me in and they said, ‘Thanks a lot, we’re going to pass, have a good summer,’” he said. “I just froze up and didn’t move.”
When the owner and manager again told Cameron to leave, he replied that he didn’t have any gas left in his car, and continued to simply stand there.
Eventually, they allowed Cameron to stay, and would later hire him — after some training.
“I fell in love with the customers, photography, just making people happy,” he said.
Now, the Camerons own Telescope Pictures, after buying out the company from former owner Pat McLaughlin, who had decided to not renew his contract with the city.
Telescope Pictures has three offices: one at 209 16th Street, another at 4805 Coastal Highway and the third uptown at11805 Coastal Highway.
They run the company with Tim Whitlock, human resources and IT management, and Charlie Fogel, lead recruiter and uptown branch general manager.
Last December, the Camerons submitted the sole bid for one of the two beach photography franchises, and then the second one in September this year.
Now with both franchises, Cameron said the pair was focusing on preparing for the next season, and possibly adding new locations.
“We’re focused on recruiting,” he said. “The biggest thing is recruiting.”
Many of the 30 or so photographers who work for the Camerons are college students, so much of their time during the off-season is spent visiting schools and doing outreach.
“It’s a fun job, they can make good money and we offer student housing,” Cameron said. “We really try to give them a good experience, and help them build their resumes as well.”
Telescope Pictures also participates in the J-1 visa program, and Cameron said he and his wife were planning a trip to Europe to meet J-1 students who are interested in working for them.
The company trains the new employees early in May up until the first week of June in order to prepare them for the season ahead.
Around June 15 or 20, the company begins working in full throttle.
“Those guys and girls on the beach are out there working hard,” Cameron said. “It’s a pleasure to deliver awesome photos to these families … and we love every single one [customer] that comes through our door, because they built the tradition.”