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Fotomat was a once-widespread retail chain of photo development drive-thru kiosks located in shopping center parking lots. Fotomat Corporation was founded by Preston Fleet in San Diego, California, in the 1960s, (the first kiosk was opened in Point Loma, California, in 1965), and became a public company in 1971 and listed on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in 1977. At its peak around 1980 there were over 4,000 Fotomats throughout the United States, primarily in suburban areas. Fotomats were distinctive for their pyramid-shaped gold-colored roofs and signs with red-lettering, usually positioned in a large parking area such as a supermarket or strip mall, as the Fotomat huts required a minimal amount of land and were able to accommodate cars driving up to drop off or pick up film.They sold Kodak-brand film and other photography-related products, and offered one-day photo finishing. Fotomat often hired female employees to work in the small buildings and called them "Fotomates." The Fotomate uniform was a royal blue and yellow smock top. Male employees were called "Fotomacs" and their uniform was a light blue polo shirt.
The company's main product, one-day development, was made obsolete by one-hour photo development. Fotomat's main product has since become the online digital photo software site Fotomat.com, which discontinued the online service on September 1, 2009. Users were still able to maintain their local albums through the toolbar, though after September 1 all online functions ended. Fotomat's message recommends that online customers switch to the Kodak Gallery service.
Fotomat has made some sparse appearances in American popular culture, namely the well-known hut with the yellow mansard roof. In the opening of the TV Series Crazy Like a Fox, a car smashes through a Fotomat, destroying it.
In addition to photo developing, Fotomat was one of the first companies to offer movies for rent on videocassette, starting in December 1979, a new concept then. Customers would browse through a small catalog, call a number and order the movie or movies of their choice. The following day, the customer would pick up the VHS at the Fotomat kiosk of their choice. The rental cost $12 per title (the equivalent of $35.50 in 2010) and the customer could keep it for five days after which they would return it to the kiosk. The price was later reduced to $9.95 for a five-day rental. The service was called "Fotomat Drive-Thru Movies," which played off of the method of renting the film by "driving through" one of their 35,000 kiosks.
Initially, only Paramount Pictures entered into an agreement with the chain to offer their movies for rent. Among the 131 titles available were The Godfather, The Godfather, Part II, Grease, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Meatballs, French Postcards, American Hot Wax, The War of the Worlds, The Onion Field, Hurricane, I Go Pogo: The Movie, Pretty Baby, The Psychic, Looking for Mr. Goodbar, Fraternity Row, Black Sunday, Marathon Man, Death Wish, Murder on the Orient Express, Barbarella and Airplane!.
These titles were distributed directly by Fotomat and were of a uniform design with a black, die-cut cardboard case and a black label that included a white title as well as Paramount's stylized logo, but otherwise no artwork or color. In addition, a Fotomat logo accompanied by a four-tone sound would play before the start of each movie. The logo included an artistic representation of the company's famous yellow mansard roof.
On March 4, 1980, Walt Disney Home Entertainment began offering their first ever videos for rental through Fotomat. The first titles released were Pete's Dragon, The Black Hole, The Love Bug, Escape to Witch Mountain, Bedknobs and Broomsticks, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Davy Crockett: King of the Wild Frontier, The North Avenue Irregulars, The Apple Dumpling Gang, Hot Lead and Cold Feet, Kids Is Kids, On Vacation WIth Mickey Mouse and Friends and The Adventures of Chip and Dale.
By 1982, local video stores had begun to offer customers cheaper video rentals without the overnight wait time and Fotomat shut down the service.