Hamilton businessman finds niche in the stars

A growing interest in astronomy has prompted a Hamilton business to switch from cameras to telescopes.

When Roger Burrough opened Camtech in 1976 he sold and serviced cameras. Now his company is called the Scope Store and while he still sells cameras, his specialty is optics – telescopes, binoculars and microscopes.

Roger Burrough and some of his telescopes.

Roger Burrough and some of his telescopes.

“The industry has changed over the years, and it’s become more and more about electronics so we decided to put our emphasis on optics,” Burrough explained. “After the recession of the early ‘90s, we had a good growth with the new digital age. With the new millennium we started to experience rapid price erosion, as was the case with all electronics, and with increased competition, our business model wasn’t sustainable.”

The decision to switch its focus more to optics and astronomy began four years before the last recession hit and slowed Camtech’s recovery, he says, though last year fared well.

The only other businesses that sell gear tailored for astronomy are in Toronto and Kitchener-Waterloo. Burrough hopes to become the third major store in the Golden Horseshoe.

Steve Kinsella, one of four part-time employees at Camtech, is an amateur astronomer, a member of the Hamilton Amateur Astronomers and the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada.

Burrough says the relationship with the two groups will help promote astronomy.

Burrough’s said the past year was his best ever for optics sales. He thinks some of the success was due to the addition of apps on smart phones and the growth in technology.

“Due to the proliferation of technology, more people are getting more interested,” he said. “It’s bringing more attention to the skies.”

The success of Burrough’s reinvented store demonstrates the popularity of astronomy , said Dr. Robert Cockcroft of McMaster’s Physics and Astronomy Department.

It is also a way to make astronomy accessible, said Cockcroft, who is also manager of McMaster’s McCallion Planetarium.

There has been an increase in attendance at the planetarium since the facility was relaunched with a new projector in 2008, he said.

“The (digital) projector has more capabilities, so now we can zoom in onto objects to view them as if we were looking at them through a telescope . . . we can show events such as meteor showers and many more,” he explained. “Apps certainly make astronomy more accessible. With a few tips, you can know very quickly what that bright object is in the sky that you’re looking at.”

Apps such as Star Walk, Starmap or SkyView allow the user to easily find constellations and planets in the sky simply by lifting their phone’s camera to the sky.

Apps such as StarMap have become popular.

Apps such as StarMap have become popular.

The application takes a GPS coordinate of your current location and calibrates where you are in relation to the stars and planets.

Cockcroft says astronaut Chris Hadfield’s venture into space and outreach initiatives with the elementary school in Mississauga have also been great for astronomy.

The transit of Venus was very popular, he said.

“I brought in 300 pairs of the solar glasses and sold every single one. They were coming in from Niagara because no one else had them,” Burrough said.

More than 500 people used special glasses at the planetarium, Cockcroft added.

Free telescope viewing sessions were started after that and they will re-start later this year.

Along with meteor showers, this coming year will feature the path of two comets. The first comet will be brightest in early March (designated C/2011 L4 PANSTARRS after the telescope in Hawaii that discovered it) but scientists note it is difficult to predict, stated Burrough.

A second comet (ISON) will appear in November and may become the brightest comet ever and even be visible during the day.

“During the night it will be brighter than the moon,” said Burrough.

Burroughs hopes to offer Astronomy 101 classes with the Hamilton Public Library, hold

drop-in sidewalk astronomy nights, and a trade show in May. Discussions are still under way for hosting a Star Night again at the Binbrook Conservation Area, after the first event was washed out several years ago.

Though many events are done on fairly short notice due to unpredictable weather, Burrough hopes this year will bring many more interested astronomers out to look at the night sky.

Originally posted in Your Hamilton Biz.

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