After he was sent to a bankrupt portrait studio in Kansas City, Mo., in January to measure the space for a new leasing agent, architect Brian Bononi saw something he couldn’t get off his mind.
Piles of portraits were stacked near the entrance, ready to be thrown out with the trash when the store’s furnishings were liquidated.
“My heart sank every time I looked at the pile,” said Bononi, 39. “I knew that those photos meant a lot to the people who were in them and that they’d be gone forever if I didn’t do something.”
Bononi could do his job and leave, and nobody would know he had come across the abandoned portraits, he said. Or he could try to reunite people with their photos.
Dozens of people in the Kansas City area are grateful Bononi chose the latter option after Portrait Innovations, a nationwide chain, went bankrupt and abruptly closed more than 100 shops, leaving thousands of customers (and their portraits) in limbo. With the Charlotte-based company’s website no longer online, customers weren’t able to find answers.
“I kept thinking, ‘What if those were my photos?’” Bononi said. “Wouldn’t I want somebody to rescue them for me?”
That afternoon, Bononi, with help from his wife and four children, loaded the portraits into their minivan and drove them to their house to be stored.
The next day, Bononi said, the real work began.
“We alphabetized all of the portraits and made a list of those that had full names and phone numbers and those that didn’t,” he said. “Then we started making phone calls.”
More than a month later, the Bononis have reached 63 customers and reunited many of them with photographs they assumed they’d never see. And now, with help from a few posts on Facebook, the family is hoping to locate nearly 100 more people whose phone numbers and first names weren’t written on their packages.
“This was an opportunity for us to reach out into our community and show some love,” said Dawn Bononi, 39. ″It’s definitely been an educational experience for all of us, and it’s been a wonderful feeling to hand people their photos when they come by our house.”
When Portrait Innovations went out of business, most customers probably thought they would never see the portraits that had captured their special milestones of family get-togethers, graduations, weddings and first births.
“I’d driven over to pick up canvas prints of our girls and found the place closed with no way to get our pictures,” said Lisa Ruffcorn, 48, who had taken her three daughters to the studio annually for the past 14 years. “We’re so grateful to Brian and his family for caring enough to get the pictures out of the closed store and taking the time and energy to find the affected families. We figured we’d never get them.”
Josh Jurgens said he was crushed when he learned the studio closed and that he and his wife, Jill, likely would never see the portrait featuring their new addition: 5-month-old daughter Evelyn.
“When I heard about Brian’s undertaking on social media, I immediately contacted him, and we had our portrait later that afternoon,” said Jurgens, 40. “We can’t thank him and his family enough. Every time I look at that picture, I’m not only grateful to have the memory back, it’s a constant reminder that there are truly awesome people out there.”
Lisa O’Connor, who had portraits of her two granddaughters, said Bononi’s kindness “is an example of how we all should be.”
“It would have been easy for him to say, ‘I’m too busy,’ or ‘that’s too bad.’” said O’Connor, 56. “He could have let [the photos] go to the landfill, but he and his family didn’t think twice about helping others.”
The best part for Brian Bononi has been watching strangers break into smiles when they finally see the portraits they posed for several months earlier.