Marfa Film Shop looks to spark interest in film photography with cameras, film and eventually film developing

Photo by Rowdy Dugan. Marfa resident Sara Button will officially open the Marfa Film Shop on Thursday, October 7, at 10:30 a.m. with mimosas, music and a ribbon cutting with Marfa’s Chamber of Commerce.

MARFA — For years, Sara Button dreamed of having a film and camera shop. Button was spending “a lot of money” to ship off rolls of film to have her photos developed — so much that when she mused to a friend “I wish I could get my film developed closer,” they responded, “You should just open a film shop.”

Button and her family moved from Denton to Marfa in 2019, and she was busy with a full-time remote job and the task of homeschooling her two nephews. Nevertheless, her film shop dream persisted. Soon she was handing in her two weeks notice at work and signing a lease on a storefront on San Antonio Street.

In a 125-square-foot building on Marfa’s main east-west thoroughfare, Button will open the Marfa Film Shop on Thursday, October 7, at 10:30 a.m. with mimosas, music and a ribbon cutting with Marfa’s Chamber of Commerce.

Her job didn’t accept the resignation, instead working with her needs in order to keep her on board. Juggling work, homeschooling and putting together a shop has kept Button’s plate full, but on the Tuesday before her opening, she was finishing her last touches and already selling some of her wares.

Button has been busy stocking lots of film, some 35mm, 120mm and 110mm cameras, film-developing materials and accessories, and Marfa Film Shop T-shirts on the store’s shelves. When she spoke with The Big Bend Sentinel this week, she was preparing an order for a customer to pick up some Portra brand film. Since she opened online ordering last month, she’s already getting to know her customer base.

Film, cameras and developing accessories are all available on her website, but for local pickup only, “so the community can have their share of film in stock,” she explains. She’s decided not to ship film out of town in order to preserve her stock and have it readily available to locals instead. Out-of-town shoppers can get branded T-shirts, but have to come into the store in order to get the majority of her offerings.

By saving most of her shop’s stock for locals, she aims to stoke and grow the film photography community in the area. “I hope it sparks something within the community and area that encourages people to pick up a camera and start shooting,” says Button.

Her own love of film dates back decades. “I’ve been shooting film for as long as I can remember,” she says. On a sixth grade trip to Washington D.C. from her hometown of Lufkin, she borrowed her parents’ 35mm Minolta camera and shot film, loading and unloading rolls as her friends all snapped disposable cameras in the U.S. capital. “The thing I like about film the most is you really never know what you’re going to get,” she says. “There’s something special and timeless about film; I like being able to hold a tangible product instead of an iPhone shot.” By high school, Button’s love of photography had her helping with the yearbook, where she learned to develop film. 

Along with retail and camera services, Button plans to use her skills to offer film processing, beginning early next year. She also has a stock of vintage cameras that she’s going to be refurbishing and selling once the store has gotten off the ground.

In an era of online shopping, Button is hoping to subvert the trend away from brick-and-mortar shops by offering something that online retail giants can’t: “Communication from a person,” she says. “If you wanted to bring an old camera in and ask questions about it or have a specific question about how to load or unload a roll of film from a camera, I’ll give that kind of help and service. If anybody wants to develop their own film or learn how to, I would love to help aid in that.”

Marfa Film Shop’s regular hours will be Friday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at 902 West San Antonio Street.