Alan Michael was born in St Kilda on October 21, 1932 and was educated at Melbourne Grammar.
He followed in his father Harold’s footsteps, studying pharmacy at University and working with him as a pharmacist in premises on the corner of Elizabeth and Lonsdale Streets built by his grandfather Emanuel in 1916. This remains the address of Michaels today.
During WWII the main manufacturers of cameras were the enemy, Japan and Germany. During this period of scarcity of camera equipment, Harold saw the opportunity to trade in used cameras to fill the void. Alan Michael nurtured this area of the business, culminating in Michaels being one of Australia’s largest second-hand camera retailers.
Post-war, the photographic section grew, and trade was conducted in both new and used cameras. Michaels was both photographic store and pharmacy under one roof, operating as two separate businesses. Alan’s son Peter – who runs the store today – recalls that there was a dividing line right through the centre of the store.
In 1975, supermarkets were just starting to stock and heavily discount pharmacy products and for that reason, as well as a sense of being restricted by regulations imposed by the pharmacy board, Alan Michael decided to close the pharmacy which his father had started 50 years earlier, transforming the business into a dedicated camera store.
In the late ’80s Alan Michael took a bold stand against the dominant supplier, Kodak, in response to Kodak opening retail stores competing against its independent customers; he refused to display the staple product of the day – Kodak film, stating ‘why should I support my direct competitor?’. He held fast to this policy for years – it was no short-term protest – and given the respect he commanded in the industry it was a gesture that caused unwelcome heartache for Kodak.
Alan Michael was a quietly-spoken but natural leader. He was a board member of two buying groups, Auscam Cameras and Camera House of Australia. He was the founder of the Procam buying group and played a significant role in the PMA over a number of years.
‘Alan was a great pioneer of the photo industry and understood very early the importance of stock range and service,’ said Malcolm Kennedy, managing director of CR Kennedy & Co, another long-standing Melbourne-based, family-owned photographic business. ‘He saw very clearly the future of the specialist store.
‘Alan built one of the greatest camera stores in the world. The museum is a tribute to his collecting ability and foresight. He has created one of Melbourne’s most interesting tourist attractions, a wonderful legacy to the city.’
‘Alan Michael was a pioneer in so many ways,’ concurred John Swainston, (ex- Maxwells, Nikon Australia). ‘He saw the early value in collective buying with Auscam, later with Camera House, with ProCam and later with NARTA under son Peter Michael’s direction.
‘More broadly he was key to establishing PMA in Australia. He understood the value of customer experience and destination and ensured the family’s property portfolio enabled the retail business to adapt to scale and scope. And he understood the value of great people, as evidenced by the many multi-decade employees who met and exceeded customer expectations.
‘He created the possibilities for the iconic globally recognised family business the company is today. Above all that he was a person who reached out to me as a young migrant and made me welcome. Thank you Alan for all you did for photography.’
One of his fiercest competitors, Ted’s Camera’s former managing director Richard Robertson, remained a firm friend long after they were done competing: ‘Alan was a good friend and tough competitor for many decades before his retirement,’ said Robbo. ‘Our friendship remain after he retired, and he retained interested in the industry.
‘Many in the industry were confused about out relationship but we saw the value in the bonds of friendship we had. We shared many good times as well as the low points.
‘He had a career that nobody else will surpass. Rest in peace, good friend.’
Alan Michael officially retired on December 31, 1999. He died on July 16 and was buried on July 19, 2016 at Springvale Botanical Cemetery.