In his 1921 passport application Charles G. Willoughby (1866-1951) stated that he was born in Osceola, Ohio, 15 Dec. 1866 and that his father was Jonathan B. Willoughby, born Illinois. The family can be found in the U. S. Census in both 1870 and 1880 living in Fulton, Gratiot County, Michigan. Jonathan Willoughby's occupation was "farmer." Charles Willoughby was 3 years old in 1870 and 13 in 1880. He had one sibling, his brother George, age 1 in 1870 and 11 in 1880.
Willoughby's first appearance in New York city directories came in 1899 when he is listed as "manager" at 621 Broadway. Subsequent listings at this address (until 1905) describe the business as cameras and photo supplies. He moved the business to 810 Broadway in 1905, and later in 1916 to 110 W. 32nd St. Willoughby's was located here on 32nd St. almost 80 years (from 1916 to 1994)!This ad for Willoughby appeared in The Evening World, Friday, 15 July 1921. The address says, "110 W. 32d St. (Opp. Gimbels)."
Click here for Willoughby ad from a 1924 telephone directory. Now a branch has been opened at 118 W. 44th St.
Charles Willoughby died in 1951, when his obituary in the New York Times read in part: "Charles G. Willoughby, founder of Willoughby's, the eight-floor block-long wholesale and retail camera store at 110 West Thirty-second Street and 113 West Thirty-first Street, died Thursday night at his residence in the Ansonia Hotel after a long illness. He was 84 years old... Born in Osceola, Ohio, Mr. Willoughby began his career as a $22-a-month teacher and later was a telegrapher. Moving to Detroit, where he developed an interest in photography, he bought a small camera for $5 and went into business as a sidewalk photographer. Later Mr. Willoughby became a retail agent in Detroit for the manufacturer who sold him his first camera. The manufacturer sent him to New York as a sales representative. This inspired Mr. Willoughby to enter the photographic equipment business. In 1898, he opened his first store in a one-room walkup at 621 Broadway."
Willoughby's became Willoughby-Peerless Camera Stores in the 1960s. This image dates from 1986. The arrow points to a Willoughby-Peerless store at the northwest corner of 4th Ave. and 13th Street. The current (Dec. 2008) successor to Willoughby's is Willoughby's Imaging Center, located at 298 5th Avenue (southwest corner of 31st St.). Their website www.willoughbys.com says "famed lensman Charles Willoughby opened his camera shop in 1898."
The sign at 110-114 W. 32nd St. can be no earlier than 1948, when the Polaroid camera was introduced. Very likely it dates from the 1960s, when an Export Division began to be listed in the Manhattan telephone directory.
In Jan. 2009 faint traces of Willoughby PEERLESS could still be found on the front of 12-14 Warren St. downtown near City Hall (click for image).
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