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Fotomat was an American-based 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, with the first kiosk opening in Point Loma, California, in 1965. It became a public company in 1971 and was 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.
In the early 1980s, Fotomat Corporation was acquired by Konishiroku Photo Industry Ltd., which later sold it to Konica Photo Imaging in 1986. Eventually, it was sold to Viewpoint Corporation in 2002.
The company's main product, overnight film development, was rendered noncompetitive by the late 1980s development of the minilab, which provided one-hour photo development and could be installed on-site without a large capital investment. Once overnight service became obsolete, Fotomat's product became online digital imaging, delivered via Fotomat.com, where users could edit and store their images. This site ceased operations September 1, 2009. The site refers users 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.
Today, the trademark is owned by DG, an advertising technology company and successor to Viewpoint Corporation.
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 cassette at the Fotomat kiosk of their choice. The rental cost was $12 per title (the equivalent of $35.50 in 2010) and the customer could keep it for five days. The price was later reduced to $9.95 for a five-day rental. The service was called "Fotomat Drive-Thru Movies."
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 discontinued the service.