Bernie Klein: 1922-2010


Left: Bernie Klein — 1922-2010. (Photo courtesy Bernie’s Photo Center)

Bernard H. Klein, 87, of Stanton Heights, passed away Saturday, June 5.

A beloved husband, father of three and grandfather of seven, Northsiders knew him as the owner and namesake of Bernie’s Photo Center.

From when he opened the shop in 1958 to when he retired in 2007 after suffering a stroke, Bernie introduced generations of Northsiders to the wonder of photography.

“I worked with him [for] almost 35 years. He was a teacher. He taught me about business,” said his son Bruce Klein, who now manages the store. “He would take me into the darkroom and show me how to develop photographs from a very early age.”

Born in McKeesport, Bernie began shooting event photography as a part-time job on weekends after returning from WWII, during which he served as a typist for an Army general, who worked closely with Gen. George S. Patton. His interest in photography became a consuming passion and he began working for several photography shops in Pittsburgh before he opened Bernie’s Photo Center on East Ohio Street.

Much changed in photography during Bernie’s career. He went from using 4×5 glass plates to film and, later, to digital prints. His family points out that he was alive for the debut of the Polaroid camera in 1947 and its discontinuation in 2008.

Through all of that, Bruce said his father always stayed committed to customer service.

Bernie was always aiding people “in the form of experience, educating people on the use of equipment, [telling them the] type of things to do to make you a better photographer. It’s that one-on-one service I learned from my dad,” Bruce said.

“We’re coming from the days of the Kodak instamatic — there were apertures and shutter speeds [to deal with]. It wasn’t a point-and-shoot world,” said Howard Scheyer, a long-time employee of Bernie’s Photo Center. Scheyer said while photography is still a teachable art, the complexity of it 50 years ago required someone knowledgeable enough to aid those new to photography.

Bruce estimated that his father’s favorite photo was taken right after WWII. “It looks like a boardwalk. Three sailors are sitting on a fence railing, and all their heads are turned in the same direction, watching these girls walk past them down the boardwalk.”

After graduating from college in the early 1980s, Bruce joined his father in expanding the one-man operation into a 22-employee corporation, he said.

Bruce later founded Photo Antiquities Museum, Pittsburgh Camera Exchange, Pittsburgh Custom Darkroom and the Fein Art Gallery along the same block of East Ohio Street.

“He always believed in the Northside, he always believed in East Ohio Street. He had opportunities to move, but he was committed. He wanted to stick it out. He saw the future there,” Bruce said.

Besides his store and his love of photography, friends remember him as an avid science fiction fan, a violinist and a father who loved his family.

“He’s going to be missed. He provided for his kids and grandchildren. He was a family man,” Scheyer said.

Bernie is survived by wife Dorothy, sons Bruce and Aaron (who also owns a camera shop in Market Square), daughter Amy Epstein, and grandchildren Benjamin and Jonathan Klein, Asher, Elliot and Alana Epstein, and Philip and Leslie Klein.

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