Village Loses One of Its Community Anchors, Former Store Owner Bob Bristol | Vizcaya key

The huge anchor that adorns the entrance to the Beach Club in Key Biscayne typifies the type of person Bob Bristol was. After all, he helped bring San Salvador’s massive salvage coin to where it is, well, anchored today.

Bristol, a longtime island resident whose family started a toy business that turned into Bristol’s Cameras, died last week of health complications after being moved from his East Ridge living center to Jackson Memorial Hospital. He would have been 75 in August.

‘He was an important part of my life,’ said Mark Celette, who aged 11 in 1959 attended school together, unaware he would spend 38 years working for and with Bristol .

Celette enjoyed a salesman’s life, showcasing the latest Kodak, Minolta, Canon and Nikon cameras, as well as the “money part”, where same-day processing of film in the store was considered “pretty high-tech “Come back then.

“Bob was very helpful, would do anything for you, and his family was nice to me,” Celette said, joking that the eldest, Mr William Bristol, “got me to buy a house, probably for keep me working. But I came home for lunch every day and it saved me a lot of money, especially when you didn’t have a lot of money.”

Bristol Cameras actually originated from the Busy Bee hobby store, owned by Bristol’s mother, Bernice, when the family moved from suburban Chicago to start their business. It became a toy store in 1955 on one side and a Key Cyclery bicycle store on the other, where Key Pharmacy is now.

“If you were a kid on the Key in the 70s, Bristol was like the FAO Schwarz for the kids of Key Biscayne…Barbie dolls, model airplanes, we’d all save our money for something special in Bristol”, said Catherine Malinin. Dunn, who now lives in Silver Spring, Maryland, and her parents still reside on the island. “People today don’t understand; it’s the only place we shopped.”

As for Bob, “he took us (the kids) seriously as customers,” she said. “You would deploy your quarters, your pennies, whatever, and it would be a business-like transaction.”

Melissa White, executive director of the Key Biscayne Community Foundation, recalled walking to the original toy store almost every weekend, “to see if I had enough money to buy something,” said she said laughing. “Those are my most vivid memories, of the toy store and the camera store, where the Winn-Dixie is (now) located.”

According to Celette, it was Bob’s father who first put cameras on the counters in front of the toy store and the rest became photography history as the camera store (instead of ‘a bicycle shop) stood in tandem with the toy store before Bristol moved to The Square, a relationship that lasted around 30 years.

“There was enough demand, especially after Hurricane Andrew,” Celette said of the sale of cameras, film, batteries and flash bulbs. “We had people coming over from the island…we handled a lot of films.”

Literally turning negatives into positives, Bob Bristol ran an impressive business. Ironically, he was only considered an amateur photographer, but he loved taking pictures underwater and some of his best work was on display in the store.

Bill Durham owned a bike shop a few doors down from The Square camera shop and often walked around to talk to Bristol, who he described as “always happy, friendly. I loved going there. It was a nice atmosphere – cheerful,” said Durham, now a columnist for Islander News.

“I’ve always struggled to complete my company’s quarterly tax returns,” he said. “But, he would come to my house at the end of each term and help me fill out the forms. That’s the kind of guy he was.”

Leo Quintana, who emigrated from Cuba, spent nearly 20 years working in the shop as a salesman and processor – his “first real serious job” after college, where he studied photography at the Art Institute from Fort Lauderdale.

Now a computer consultant and photographer for Islander News, he called Bob a “great guy…very community-oriented,” he said.

“I remember when I needed a car, his mom sold me her used car, an amazing car,” said Quintana, who recalls paying $5,000 for a white Cadillac that it has long been used. “It was a very good price to help me. The whole family, from the Midwest, was very nice.”

Bristol was once White’s neighbor on Ridgewood Road – “a gentle, caring man”, she said.

The doors of Bristol’s Cameras closed at 260 Crandon Boulevard in January 2012 as the digital revolution was well underway.

But memories, like Polaroids, never completely fade.

In fact, Bristol was one of the founders of the Key Biscayne Historical & Heritage Society, and its archive of the island’s pictorial history – “a collection of everything from the days of his parents” to the modern era – are still on display at the Popup Museum, now located at 88 West McIntyre in Village Hall, Suite 210.

As for the now famous San Salvador anchor, it was Bristol’s idea to connect with longtime Beach Club manager Mike O’Brien to transfer the epic piece of nautical history to the club. The anchor graced the lawn of the Emmons’ family home on Harbor Drive for more than 50 years.

O’Brien happily accepted the piece, and today it remains, in part, a testament to one of the pillars of the village community, Bob Bristol.

Laura J. Boyer