Robert W. Foister's interest in photography began as a little boy, roaming around Chapel Hill taking photos with his cheap Kodak Brownie camera
. He began his business renting Oliver typewriters
(for seventeen pennies a day!) and typewriter supplies out of the Southern Express Office he worked in.
In 1911, he bought several $1.50 cameras and some chemical equipment and opened a photo finishing shop in E. A. Brown's store
, using the town pump for washing his negatives and prints since he didn't have running water in the store.
Initially, besides processing photographs for locals and students, he offered cameras for rent or to borrow. His business expanded over time, and he began servicing local drug stores for their photo processing.
In 1920, a fire almost destroyed his business, burning the structure it was located in; luckily, UNC students broke into the camera store and rescued as much equipment as they could, but the building was unusable. So, Foister moved across the street into a vacant storefront in the Hill Building
. Foister had his photo finishing laboratory upstairs and ran a student supply and soda shop on the first floor (at some point, the first floor space was taken over by UNC and utilized as The Book Exchange
). His business suffered damage from another fire in April 1925.
In 1932, Foister moved his business into an available space in the Strowd Building
, next to Sutton's Drug Store, where the business remained until it closed in 1979.
View north west, circa 1915 (photo by Robert Foister)
View north, circa 1947 (photo by Bayard Wootten, via UNC)
Interior, 1947 (photo via Chapel Hill Historical Society)
View north, 1977 (photo via Chapel Hill Historical Society)
Foister's ad, 1909
Foister's ad, 1912
From the April 8, 1925 Daily Tar Heel
Foister's ad, 1975
The Chapel Hill Weekly, December 5, 1941.
The Chapel Hill Weekly, July 9, 1954.
The Daily Tar Heel, April 8, 1925.
The Tar Heel, October 20, 1909.
Bryant, Bernard Lee. Occupants and structures of Franklin Street, Chapel Hill, North Carolina at 5-year intervals, 1793-1998.