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Scenes from The Image Flow, at center and top right. Courtesy images,

When Mill Valley photographer Stuart Schwartz decided to make the leap and open his multi-faceted photography business, he did so at a particularly fraught economic moment, just as the global financial crisis was spiraling in July 2008.

But despite operating on a “gut feeling” that Mill Valley was chock full of photographers needing help and interested in learning, Schwartz also saw the power of seizing the moment as vacancies were increasing. Three years after opening in a small space on the La Goma Street side of 401 Miller Ave., General Hardware at 401 Miller Ave. shut down after nearly 40 years there, and Schwartz was able to negotiate a lease for the 6,300-square-foot space that was considerably friendlier than he would have gotten a few years earlier or later.

Thirteen years on, Schwartz is on the other side of that equation, as the new owner of the commercial center is leasing the space at something closer to market rate for the huge space, and Schwartz has signed a lease to move to a 1,500-square-foot space at 485 Magnolia Street in downtown Larkspur. They’re moving out of 401 Miller at the end of June, and reopening in Larkspur on August 1.

“We had a really great run at 401 Miller, but all great things eventually come to an end,” Schwartz says, noting that the significant downsizing means they’ll have to lose their large commercial photography studio and a pair of rental darkrooms.. “We’re going to make the best of it. It’s in a spot that has great foot traffic – right across the street from Rulli Bakery – and we’re holding on to all of the other parts of the business.”

In the years after The Image Flow opened in the large space at 401 Miller, the business thrived, becoming a go-to photography educational hub, a world class commercial photography studio for clients like Margaret O’Leary and Boon Supply and curator of destination photography trips to places like Havana, Cuba and the Tuscany region of Italy , not to mention co-producing the Annual Click Off Photography Contest with the Mill Valley Arts Commission.

That success was spawned by Schwartz’s realization that “there are a lot of talented people out there taking pictures, and a lot of them have their images locked up on their computers and never get them off,” Schwartz said, noting that it was his three decades of work in the corporate and advertising world for clients like Apple and Del Monte that led him to that realization. One client, a chief executive at a biotech firm, liked to show off his personal photos taken on expensive cameras from his travels all over the world.

“We were scrolling through Smug Mug or whatever and I thought, ‘There must be thousands of people like this that don’t do anything with their images but keep them locked up.’ These people needed to be able to print their photos to show them off.”

“Our business has been very specific to the demographics we have here in Mill Valley,” he said. “It’s Marin moms, without a doubt. They’ve had a passion for photography that’s been locked up and now they finally they have the time and wherewithal to follow their passion. The digital world has just made it a whole lot easier to do.”

“We’re excited to dive into the next phase of The Image Flow,” he says. 

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