Cape May Snaps
Prior to opening Cape May Snaps, Brian Dunleavy was thinking about the future. Specifically, his own. Dunleavy, who had had a career in cable television, was three years retired and thinking about starting a business while on a three-month surfing trip to Brazil. Originally, he thought about going into business selling Brazilian Cangas, which are almost like a cross between a towel and a sarong, when he happened to come across a guy printing phone photos onto ceramic tiles.
“He had a sign that said you could get your phone pictures printed on ceramic tile, and I thought that sounded cool,” says Dunleavy. “So, I did it and got two done. Then I went back the next day and got three more done, went back the next day and got five more done. I couldn’t stop. And I asked him if he would show or tell me how he was doing this. I thought he would give me like five or 10 minutes, but I ended up hanging out with him for a while and he fully showed me how to do what he was doing.”
That fortuitous connection led to Cape May Snaps, a unique photo print shop and art gallery in Cape May. Cape May Snaps offers a way for people to transfer their digital shots to something tangible they can take home at the end of a family vacation, without having to figure anything out on their own. It’s a concept that might have worked as a virtual store, minus one very important consideration: interaction.
“People will come in with 7,000 photos on their phone,” Dunleavy says. “They’re here on vacation—they aren’t print people, but they can come in and get something printed,” says Dunleavy. “I’ll ask them to pick out a few pictures they may want. So, they’ll scroll. Now I’m working with them, and they’ll ask what I think of this one. And then we’ll determine what they might want it on, and what size is best based on their picture. It’s all about interacting, because people don’t know how to print anymore.”
Rather than uploading a photo to Shutterfly or another online photo printing site—and then experiencing the frustration that comes with being alerted that the resolution is too blurry, the image is too small, the whole thing just won’t work—Dunleavy and his staff help guide the customers. And they are plentiful—another reason Dunleavy opted for a brick-and-mortar location.
“Approximately 10 million people visit this area each year,” says Dunleavy. “The idea was to do a store because the people were here.”
And the people most definitely want take-homes from their vacation. The 800-square foot store, located in the Washington Commons, features the printing process that Dunleavy learned in Brazil, offering customers the opportunity to purchase their photos on rock slate, metal, coasters, mugs, wall panels, and more, with the most popular seller being the 6×8” rock slate.
“The tile was a baseline. Since then, I’ve figured out how to print on different surfaces,” says Dunleavy. In this digital age, having something as personal as a photograph turn into a tactile piece of art isn’t just fun, it’s memorable. As such, people keep coming back.
“At Christmas time, it goes wild,” says Dunleavy. “Say you have your best friend and she’s having a birthday. You want to get her something unique and different, so you go to her Facebook page and pick one of her photos, download it to your phone, and then give it to me either here in the store or via the website and we print it. You give it to them, and it blows their mind. I have a lot of people who, when they come back to pick up, they cry. It’s an emotional kind of thing.”
As one might expect, a high percentage of the pieces that Dunleavy prints are for gifts—and no wonder. Not only do the finished products serve as great presents, but they’re also relatively inexpensive, with a 4×4” ceramic tile with a stand just $17 and an 8×10” metal photo panel with wall mount at $43. Because the items are so personal and affordable, and because the process is so easy, just about everyone who sees them wants one.
“I just had two guys come in to do a whole bunch of work on my fire prevention system. They saw what was going on, and they’re like ‘Wow.’ One guy ended up ordering one, another guy ordered three,” says Dunleavy.
The phone photo prints might draw customers in, but they’re not the only thing keeping them at Cape May Snaps. In fact, there’s a whole separate, though related, aspect to Cape May Snaps in the form of an art gallery. “The phone picture part is the biggest part,” says Dunleavy. “So, I’ve really concentrated on getting people in the door for the phone pictures. Then they get in here and they are surrounded by all this art.”
Decking the walls of Cape May Snaps is artwork from local artists Joe Evangelista, Patricia Rainey, and Tommy Peters, among others. Dunleavy collaborates with artists to determine which images work best for Cape May Snaps before printing them to sell to customers. The specialties tend to be iconic images, like a photo of a lifeguard stand from Evangelista or a painting of the Hotel Alcott by Rainey. And while there are mostly prints available at Cape May Snaps, there are also some originals.
“The artists driving people to the store helps them and helps what I do,” says Dunleavy. “It’s a win-win thing.”
Above all, Cape May Snaps is a shop full of inspiration and fun and creative items, perfect for gift giving, even if the recipient is yourself.
“What really got me started was that when I did it down there in Brazil, I couldn’t believe the way I felt,” says Dunleavy. “I did it because of how I felt doing it, you know? I thought ‘he’s got something here.’ And it’s all about that. It’s all about the experience of it.”