You wouldn't guess by walking into their studio for the first time, but Scherling Photography is in their 100th year of business. A feat that very few family businesses accomplish. Owners, Patrick and Larry Scherling, laugh about it as if it's just another year for them but we know the significance behind this accomplishment. Sitting down with Patrick and Larry, it is easy to see they are proud to be part of such a long-standing business in the Fargo area. Happy to share their story, we dive right into the start of Scherling Photography.
A.R. Scherling was a small-town North Dakota farm boy with a strong faith-based upbringing. He started his career in photography following an internship with Dewey Studios. After learning about the trade, A.R. set out to build a business of his own. In 1919, A.R. started Scherling Photo Products, building his company on the need for roll film processing. At the time, Scherling offered coupons for 25 cent roll processing where customers could send in their film, receive their prints and get a free roll of film for their next order. The business was so successful, both Patrick and Larry remember when they were processing up to 40,000 rolls of film a month.
Their first studio in Downtown Fargo was where the processing magic happened and holds some special memories for the Scherling Brothers.
"I vividly remember our first studio on 113 1/3 Broadway. The only way you could access our studio was by climbing a long staircase on the outside of the building. As a kid, it seemed as though those stairs continued for miles," said Patrick Scherling.
As kids, Larry and Patrick were an intrical part of the developing process. Each brother had a different job to do. They easily discuss their roles as if it was yesterday.
"My first job was to take the photos and run them through the dryer after they'd been in the developer tanks and the stabilizer. From the dryer, I would take the prints and lay them on a mat board, covering them and pressing the pictures flat so they would completely dry without any curl. From there, we would have to manually sort through the photos to try to find all the matches and prints for each job," said Larry.
Up until the 1970s, being a photographer was more than just shooting images. It meant 12-15 hours days. Half the day was spent shooting and the other half was spent processing photos. This process is one that both Patrick and Larry remember fondly but don't necessarily miss now that there is the convenience of digital printing.
"Before digital, photography was completely different. It was more technical. You had to know what the lighting would do to the photos, there was no second chance to take a photo, to find that perfect shot. You didn't see the eyes closed or the frowns in a group photo until you developed the photos hours later. This long and arduous process is what kept the freelance photography industry small. In fact, in the Fargo/Moorhead area, there were only 5 or 6 main studios/photographers. Today, with digital, you see freelance photographers everywhere, some choosing to focus on just one particular niche like family portraits or weddings," said Patrick.
In 1980, when Larry and Patrick took over the business, they started scouting for new locations which led to their current location. Choosing the building wisely, they decided to follow the natural growth of the city as West Acres moved into the west of Fargo. When they made the move from Downtown to 13th avenue, Patrick and Larry decided to bring a piece of nostalgia with them.
"The counter you see when you come into our studio, it's the same counter that was used at both Broadway locations. Sure, it's been modified and changed to look more modern, but the counter is the same. It's our little piece of history and a reminder of how far we've come," said Larry.
In 2000, photography business for the Scherling's started to shift as digital became the mainstream. Keeping up with the trends, the Scherling's purchased their first digital printer in 2001. They then became one of the first companies in Fargo to print school photos in-house, something they continue to do today. The ability to adapt and remain diversified as well as their tight nit faith-based family is what the Scherling's successfully running and operating a 100-year-old business.
Although their business started with photo processing, the ability and knowledge to shoot school and senior photos are what helped Scherling expand. With offices in Minneapolis, Bismark, Sioux Falls, and Virginia, Scherling Photography continues to focus on what they love most, working with students.
Apart from their love of photography, it is clear both Patrick and Larry share a passion for shooting photos of children for various schools within the area. Patrick focuses more on school photos while Larry has a knack for senior photos.
"I have a lot of fun with senior photos. The props, the backgrounds, and the personalities, it's always different depending on the senior I am working with. There's always a story there. A story that I try to show through my photos," said Larry.
Another aspect of the business they take pride in is training new photographers. Patrick explained that their photographers are trained for a year, at a minimum, before they are sent to work on their own.
"We want our photographers to understand the technical aspect of shooting, sure, but what we work on the most is the ability to successfully shoot school and senior photos. It's more than just props and a camera. It's about knowing how to interact with different personalities and how to evoke happiness in each child to get that perfect picture," said Patrick.
Rich with history and sharing a bond to do right by others, Patrick and Larry have no plans to end their business, even after retirement. When asked about the future, both Patrick and Larry were quick to state that they would like to keep Scherling Photography in the family. Family, hard work, and faith, after all, is what led to their success as a fourth generation business in an ever-changing industry.