The sounds of whirring and printers fill the small, fluorescently-lit space of Quik-Pix Photo Lab, tucked into a small strip mall on Vermont Avenue in South Los Angeles.
Faded pictures of wedding photos, studio portraits of quinceañeras and family photographs adorn the white brick walls of Quik-Pix, as developed rolls of film hang off of a small drying rack near the rear wall.
Tucked behind the glass counter filled with rolls of film and disposable cameras is Gazi Alam, the owner and sole employee of Quik-Pix.
Donning a USC beanie and black jacket, Alam scans and edits film photographs on an old scanning machine and prepares to welcome clients into his shop.
Behind Alam and Quik-Pix’s warm exteriors is a history of which many customers are unaware.
Akm, Alam’s older brother and the original owner of Quik-Pix, was diagnosed with motor neuron disease around three years ago. Akm had to take a step back from the business due to his diagnosis and pushed Alam to take over to keep Quik-Pix open.
Alam became the store’s primary employee in 2021 when his brother’s disease progressed. Akm passed away in January, leaving Alam to run the family business alone.
“I’m continuing [the business] now to continue his legacy,” Alam said, smiling. “I know the business. [We] started a long time ago, and I have a lot of experience. Let’s see how long we can go.”
Alam moved to the U.S. from Bangladesh in 1998 after attending university in his home country. As soon as he came to L.A. to join his brother, Alam began working with him in the photo-printing industry.
Despite its long history in South L.A. with the Alams, Quik-Pix has not been on Vermont Avenue for its entire existence. The photo shop was located for over 30 years in the former strip mall that the USC Village took over in 2015.
Maria Patiño Gutierrez, director of policy and research at the nonprofit Strategic Actions for a Just Economy, said there has been a history of displacement in South L.A. by USC to make the area more accessible and livable for students, such as the construction of the USC Village.
When construction of the USC Village began, SAJE worked with the displaced businesses to help them find new locations and information.
“We have seen many families displaced [and] priced out by USC housing,” Gutierrez said in an email. “In particular in South Los Angeles, [SAJE] has been working on making the Community Plan Implementation Overlay stronger with demolition protections and the right to return for tenants displaced due to building housing that is likely aimed for students.”
Community Plan Implementation Overlay Districts were designated by the City of L.A. to “offer customized protection to individual neighborhoods and corridors and set clear regulations for the size, scale, and bulk of new construction.”
Alam said the leases for the new USC Village storefronts were too expensive for Quik-Pix to afford and that the school offered no benefits or discounts for the businesses that had been there for decades.
“They said we had to move,” Alam said. “We had to find a new location, and had to look close by to stay in business because our customers are students. We cannot do anything if we are far away. Luckily we found this location very close to the USC campus, and we started all over again.”
According to Alam, about 95% of his business is composed of USC students, who come to Quik-Pix Photo Lab to develop film. International students also go to the store to have their visa and passport photos taken.
Carly Rieger, a sophomore majoring in communication, has been a Quik-Pix customer for over a year. She found Quik-Pix from looking on Google Maps, but was not aware of the store’s history.
“I didn’t know about the previous Village location, and I appreciate the fact that [Gazi] is just committed to doing his job and providing the services that he offers,” Rieger said. “I have a camera that I’ve been holding on to for months, and now I want to go over there and give him some more of my business.”
While Alam was able to keep the business afloat after the relocation and COVID-19 years, in which Quik-Pix had to close for a period of time, he said the business has never been the same since he and his brother were forced to move from the old University Village.
“[The old store] was at the prime location. Parking was easy; everything was very reliable and people could come easily,” Alam said. “Still, we are struggling. It is not like before, but we are still surviving, staying here. We’ll see.”
Many students don’t know Quik-Pix exists at the Vermont Avenue location, and advertising is difficult with a tight operating budget, according to Alam.
Despite the USC Village displacing Alam and his brother from their original business storefront, Alam still considers himself to be a part of the Trojan family.
“We take care of our customers like family members,” Alam said. “We build friendships with customers for four or five years. I have customers that have moved to other states, and they are still coming back and sending [film] by mail.”
Alam has a customer that graduated from USC in 1995 who is road-tripping from Washington this summer to develop film with Quik-Pix. The customer previously got his film developed at the original Quik-Pix location and reconnected with Alam after seeing a Daily Trojan article about the business.
“From the beginning, I’ve experienced — in my imagination — traveling the whole world because students travel here and there,” Alam said. “I can tell from pictures where they travel, and it’s amazing. I love it. It’s a very wonderful experience.”
Alam has plans to revamp the business moving forward. He said he plans to offer personalization services, such as mugs, t-shirts and other products that students can personalize with pictures.
While the future of Quik-Pix is uncertain, Alam talks about the future with a smile on his face.
“We are still here,” Alam said. “We don’t know how long we can survive, but let’s see.”