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Armand Kohandani and his wife, Ellen, are shown in Denton Camera Exchange on Piner Street. Kohandani’s shop is adjacent to the main location of Mi Casita Mexican Food, owned by his parents.

1950s pharmacy building turned into vintage camera shop

The old Yarbrough’s Pharmacy building still stands, but it now has a new paint job and a new business sign.

The building at 117 Piner St. now houses Denton Camera Exchange, a shop dedicated to new, used and antique cameras, lenses and equipment, as well as vinyl records and restored vintage furniture.

“I pretty much remodeled the entire building and created this enclosure to create a darkroom,” said owner Armand Kohandani, 28. “I kept a lot of the old furniture. … When I moved the counter, I cut the room in half.”

The shelves and counter have been repainted and repurposed, now holding cameras, equipment and other accessories. Vintage cameras sit on one set of shelves, while another has camera bags — above them, a row of old pharmacy books.

Yarbrough’s Pharmacy, on Piner between Hickory and Oak streets, closed in 2012 and owner Julia Gibson held an estate sale. Her father, pharmacist Lonnie Yarbrough, opened the business in 1950. Yarbrough died in 2009.

Armand Kohandani signed a lease in July, and since then he’s been preparing the building for his new business, doing all of the renovations himself.

“When I saw this building, it just screamed ‘camera shop’ to me,” Kohandani said about the structure, designed by husband-and-wife team Mount Miller Architects.

He likes the feel of the old Yarbrough building, from its 15-foot ceiling to the old office on the second floor.

“It is nice to be in a Denton culturally significant building,” he said.

A photographer for five years, Kohandani said he wanted to bring a needed business to the city.

“Denton did not have a creative outlet for people to come and share ideas, to acquire the gear they need in a storefront,” he said. “They would have to get it online or go to Best Buy, which has a very limited supply of things professionals need. I want to create a resource.”

Many photographers have had to go outside of Denton to get their equipment, he said.

“I am doing something different,” he said. “Most camera shops don’t have darkrooms, they don’t have professional shooting services — thing that I am trying to get going here.”

Kohandani graduated from the University of North Texas with a bachelor’s in philosophy and a minor in business management. He and his wife, Ellen, are expecting their first child in about two months.

He said he’s received a lot of support from his parents, Matt and Lilly Kohandani, the owners of Mi Casita Mexican Food — whose main location is adjacent to his new business.

Matt Kohandani said his son has been in love with the Yarbrough building since he was 11.

“When my wife and I were running the restaurant, the kids were there all the time,” he said. “Most of the time they were in the office doing their homework. Little did he know that one day he was going to start a business there.”

Armand, the second oldest of four children, worked at his parents’ restaurant for many years. Being entrepreneurial, his dad said, is a family affair.

“I am extremely proud of my son,” Matt Kohandani said. “I knew that [photography] was his passion, something he always wanted to do. I am behind him 100 percent.”

It’s not the first time Armand Kohandani has started a business. Two years ago, he started a food truck — Burrito Baron, an extension of Mi Casita.

His food truck business is still in the process of opening back up. Until then, he’ll dedicate himself to Denton Camera Exchange, which he says has gotten good response from the community.

Customer Mercy Nompone said working with Kohandani was like asking a best friend for help.

“He is always eager to get started and makes sure to take complete care of my cameras,” she said by e-mail. “He is super knowledgable and friendly.”

Nompone said she was glad to finally see a place in Denton dedicated to film cameras and digital equipment.

“It is a great place to geek out with other creatives,” she said.

Kohandani hopes to eventually work with the local film community.

“I am working my way up to bigger stuff,” he said.

With his own business, he said, he hopes to keep the Yarbrough family’s legacy alive.

“I remember being cordial with Mr. Yarbrough when he was here, and I was really sad to learn the day he passed away,” Kohandani said. “I wanted to come in and keep alive what they had going, not only in their work ethic for having a longtime business, but to have something that paid homage to what they did here.”

KARINA RAMÍREZ can be reached at 940-566-6878 and via Twitter at @KarinaFRamirez.


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