Stories within a story are part of the landscape. They reveal themselves along the way as the layers of your subject unfold.
Case in point: Tim Ulmer.
Ulmer, a small business owner, who runs Ulmer Photo on West Adams Street in Stockton, is a prolific photographer of community events, and non-profit fundraisers. and he has received a plethora of honors while being the unofficial photographer of the city he loves.
These honorsinclude being named 2014 Stocktonian of the Year and earning the 2015 Edison High School Community Involvement Award, the Lifetime Achievement Photo Trade Industry Award and 2022 City of Stockton Small Business Award. Most recently he was given the Citizen Recognition Award by the Stockton Police and Fire departments, and will be serving as the Grand Marshall of Stockton’s Fourth of July Parade.
These awards and Ulmers consistently strong presence with camera in tow, to all events promoting Stockton, is quite well known to most community activists. Even if you only go to a few events a year you can count on seeing him.
“I’ve spent 20-25 hours a week for the last 20 plus years supporting 30 or more local non-profits by taking photos at their events and helping them promote their services,” Ulmer said.
The true sum of that investment was revealed at a recent visit to his shop just off the Miracle Mile.
Ulmer explained we would, of course, have to talk between customers. No problem. Well, maybe.
There was a steady flow of phone inquiries and several times Tim explained to customers they would have to come in today or later, as he was closed tomorrow due to 3 community engagements.
Multiple walk-ins entered as if they were visiting a friend. Tim smiled, greeted them on a first name basis, and retrieved their goods without asking how to spell their last name. And they lingered, eager to chat and swap info. Tim shared details about their work and talents saying multiple times, “There is another story here too, you may want to keep on your radar for future reference.”
For Ulmer, the idea behind creating friendships with customers started long ago. Before he was even a teen he mowed lawns, raked leaves, sold seeds and washed windows for his neighbors. With the money he bought his first camera, A Kodak X15.
Soon he was taking pictures of his neighbor’s well manicured lawns and sold the photos back to his customers, an example of marketing 101. Early on Tim recognized the value of a well-earned connection.
Memberships in Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts instilled in Ulmer a strong work ethic and value system based on respect and helping others. Ulmer’s love of photography grew and at just 13 years old he opened an account at Meadows Camera. Greg Meadows got to know Ulmer as a customer, helped educate him about his purchases and industry trends. He never missed a payment.
Attending Delta College and working at the JCPenney store their management trainee program enhanced Ulmer’s customer service, retail and merchandising skills.
The friendship between Meadows and Ulmer continued and in 1981 the relationship changed to employer-employee when Ulmer accepted a position at Meadows Camera.
“Greg really thought of me as a diamond in the rough. He took me under his wing,” Ulmer said. “He mentored me and guided me into a leadership position that allowed me to thrive and in turn mentor others. Because really that is the true measure of success isn’t it? To assist others in finding their strengths.”
Meadows experienced consistent growth and Ulmer was promoted to V.P. and General Manager. By 1995 they had 42 employees and under Ulmer’s leadership were recognized nationally as photo retailer of the year.
Meadows sold to Wolf Camera in 1997, and by 1999 Ulmer had decided the time was right to open his own business.
At that time the redevelopment of downtown was taking center stage in Stockton and Tim wanted to be part of that movement. He opened a shop downtown on Weber Ave. and began making long lasting connections with nonprofits and small businesses.
The Stockton Emergency Food Bank was one of his first endeavors. Ulmer remained a board member for 14 years and served 18 months as board president.
Another notable relationship that continues today started with Bishop Blair of the Catholic Diocese of Stockton. Bishop Blair wandered into Ulmer’s photo shop one day and introduced himself, explaining they had recently opened the Pastoral Center at 212 N. San Joaquin Street. A few days later Bishop Blair returned with a fellow priest needing passport photos for an upcoming trip. Before the two left the shop they had recruited Tim to attend an event at the Diocese and take photos.
Ulmer is an active member at Quail Lakes Baptist and does all the photography for his church pro bono.
“Shortly after I met Bishop Blair I asked him to join me at a prayer breakfast,” Ulmer said. “Our relationship blossomed and from then on he would always call me personally to book events. Never used a secretary. We remained friends until his death. This will be my 16th year covering the Bishops Awards.”
With over 6,400 followers on Facebook Ulmer thrives on connecting people to resources they need. His network just provided over 100 stuffed bunnies for a local nonprofit and he recently completed a stuffed animal drive for a bereavement program supporting local children.
A strong believer in tithing Ulmer says it does not need to be measured in dollars.
“Not everyone can donate money but perhaps you can donate your time or a particular skill,” Ulmer said. “Look around you. There are so many needs and everyone can give something. We all have strengths that can be shared.”
Inside Ulmer’s shop is an area enclosed behind a sliding glass door displaying used and donated cameras. Great deals for anyone wanting to embrace traditional photography.
Ulmer no longer has his first camera. But what a sweet investment, creating a lifetime of connections.