Neighboorhood store Sapphire Photo at 2761 Mission St. Photo by Joe Rivano Barros.

After many years in the Mission, Sapphire Photos shut down last week, a paper sign on their barred door alerting its customers to the closure and thanking them for their long term support.

The business owner, Elaine Chu, also owns the building, which houses J & J Hair Salon, used video game store CeX, Sapphire Photos and the Nicaraguan Red Balloon Restaurant. Chu could not be reached about the closure, but her husband said that it was “about time to close” and nothing more.

Some employees of the businesses in these units say she likely closed Sapphire Photos because she fell ill. Others speculated that it was simply the changing photography market.

“Before, I used to go in there with a roll. Now I just use my phone,” said Columba Perez, a hairstylist who has worked at J & J Salon, where Chu is also the business owner, for some 24 years. “Maybe that’s why they closed.”

Still, it was unexpected and no one appears to know what will replace it.

“It was surprising,” said Jackie Lopez, who works at Red Balloon Restaurant next door. “It was from one day to another.” Lopez added that the store was very popular and that “a lot, a lot” of people would go in. “Sometimes they would come in here and get confused,” she laughed, remembering. “People still come in asking about it.”

On Yelp, Sapphire Photos was very well-liked. Reviewers give the store four stars and rave about its friendly staff, fast service, and wide variety of services. Most say they were in and out in under five minutes — smiles all the way — with their passport photos, xeroxed papers, and even Bart and Muni tickets.

The shop seems to have catered especially to Latin American customers, affording its clients country-specific photos for passports, visas, and other needed documents. One Yelp review claims they even had the specific dimensions required for a Brazilian soccer team card.

But the store was widely appreciated.

Michael Johnson, a photographer who lives in the Mission for part of the year, says that though he only went in for passport photos, he valued the store greatly. “As a professional photographer, their window was always worth a look when passing by to make me smile, seeing captured as photographs the things that were important to the people of the Mission,” he wrote via email, referencing the Carnaval photos and other portraits that once adorned the storefront. “That is one of the things that photography does best.”

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