Hundreds of previously developed and brightly colored disposable cameras piled up in a transparent bin inside of Quik-Pix Photo Lab tell a story of USC and the surrounding community. The store’s owner, Akm Alam, has a unique connection with the student population, having developed thousands of student photos for the past few decades.
As of Feb. 17, Alam’s business, which is located a few blocks from campus on Vermont Avenue, has served the local community for exactly forty years. Mason Robinson, a senior majoring in communications who frequents the store, said that Alam is “just one of those few people that you can go to his store and [he] knows your name and he’s happy to see you.”
While Alam’s kind-heartedness has always been a staple, his business has faced difficulties over the past few years. Quik-Pix was one of many businesses forced to relocate when the USC Village was constructed in 2014, according to Alam. The coronavirus pandemic and its effect on the student population due to remote learning has also caused Quik-Pix to suffer from a lack of business. In addition, Alam has dealt with his fair share of personal struggles. Within the past year, he was diagnosed with Motor Neuron Disease, which defines the group of diseases that reside in the same family as ALS.
While Robinson had been using Quik-Pix’s film development services since his freshman year, he only began his relationship with Alam this summer, when Robinson helped Alam out from time to time in the store. This was when the pair “got to really know each other,” Robinson said. It was only within the past few months that Alam told Robinson and another senior, Biata Shem-Tov, about his struggles. Robinson said the exchange was very emotional and left him “pretty much speechless”.
After this exchange, Robinson, with help from Shem-Tov, decided to extend a helping hand and create a GoFundMe page that would serve as a fundraiser for Alam.
“He could definitely appreciate a little sign of support, even if it was just a gift or whatnot, but just knowing that people care and that people don’t just mindlessly walk into the store or view him as just a random part of their lives,” Robinson said.
A GoFundMe page spread across social media quickly as students began sharing the story amongst each other.
Many students were happy to help, given that those who have used one of Quik-Pix’s many services seem to have a story about the kindness and professionalism of Alam. Sipporah Negash, a senior majoring in chemical engineering, described the first time she met Alam.
“He was really kind, and we got to chat a bit about our backgrounds and stuff, and he just seemed genuinely interested in talking with me and getting to know more about me,” Negash said. “It was also really great to be able to put a face to the name.”
Alam even went out of his way to give Negash a tutorial on how to better use her camera, she said.
Kiana Naderi, a senior majoring in business administration, described Alam’s warmth as contagious.
“I couldn’t believe how somebody could have such a smile on their face every single day, despite going through so much hardship, so I knew I had to share it and send it around on group chats, share it on all my social media, try to help him as much as possible,” Naderi said.
Just this past week, the GoFundMe page hit its goal, raising over $3,000, just shy of 100 donors at the time of publication. This is in addition to the $2,000 raised in an earlier GoFundMe campaign that aimed to help Alam during coronavirus lockdowns this summer, organized by alum Lauren Torres.
The funds raised will be gifted to Alam, to be used at his discretion for medical bills, financial support for Quik-Pix, or otherwise, Robinson said. Most importantly, Robinson said, is that the fundraiser will alleviate some of Alam’s financial worries and share the message that he isn’t alone.
And the message got across. On Quik-Pix’s 40th anniversary, Robinson and Shem-Tov surprised Alam with the support he’d received through the GoFundMe page. After hearing the news, Alam was overwhelmed with happiness, saying that he would be grateful for the rest of his life.
“Knowing that I have some money, mentally I’m at peace a little bit,” Alam expressed.
Alam said he loves being able to interact with students, and they feel the same about him.
“I just feel like they’re my kids, [like] they’re my children,” Alam said.
Donate to the GoFundMe page here: Support Akm Alam and Quik Pix.