I took these pictures of the abandoned Picture Island drive-in photo kiosk near Southway Plaza in Muncie with my iPhone on June 5, 2020. Hmm. That’s kind of ironic.
The company was part of a retail division of Carhart Photo, Incorporated, of Rochester, New York. Founded in 1914 by Harry D. Carhart -a former employee of the Eastman Kodak Company- Carhart Photo was an early entry into the sale of greeting cards, and was apparently once the largest Hallmark dealer in the United States according to company lore. Carhart’s sons bought him out after World War II, and by the 1960s the company operated a handful of retail stores and opened midwestern photo processing lab in Indianapolis in 1966. Twelve years later, the company restructured and sold the processing plant just after it began opening its mini labs.
Picture Island first came to Muncie when it opened at Southway Plaza in 1977 after the brand held a month of open interviews at Muncie’s Holiday Inn. That November, the store offered twenty-five photo greeting cards with envelopes for $6.49 and, shortly after, Carhart opened another Picture Island stand in an outlot of the Village Pantry at 1800 W. Jackson Street.
Picture Island kiosks spanned as far from Muncie as Normal, Illinois and Ithaca, New York, although “The Picture People Close To You” also had three locations in Anderson at 3731 South Madison Street and 3814 Columbus Avenue in front of two small strip malls, along with a third across from the Mounds Mall in front of Anderson’s T-Way Plaza.
A new Picture Island kiosk opened next to the Speedway gas station at McGalliard Road and Wheeling Avenue in 1981. Two years later, both locations offered coupons good for a dollar off of the purchase of Kodacolor VR films at a variety of speeds. The McGalliard and Wheeling location was unceremoniously short-lived, though, as by 1985 only the Southway Plaza location was advertised in the newspaper.
Facing significant headwinds over advancing technology, low profits, and low potential for growth, the Carharts sold the business to Max Jenkins, an employee who’d joined the company several years prior. Jenkins, in turn, sold the business to Atlanta’s American Photo Group, which phased out the Carhart name in 1986.
The kiosk at Southway Plaza lasted until at least 1990, when it was advertising renting “family type” videos and Nintendo games along with photo processing in the classifieds section. The kiosk spent some time in the 1990s as a sno-cone stand called “Snow in the Summer,” but by the time I drove past for a couple of photos thirty years later, someone had most recently used the place as a crash pad with a sofa and an old TV.
I haven’t been past the old Picture Island drive-up photo stand since, but it sits on a separate lot from the rest of Southway Plaza, which, in March, was slated for imminent rehabilitation and redevelopment as “The Markets on Madison”. Maybe it will be saved! But regardless of whether or not its historic value is legitimate, it’s an interesting relic from the days before the ubiquity of our smartphones made photo developing obsolete for the majority of us.