Iconic local business left to owner's mentee
Photo company given to another man with a dream to succeed
Ashley Montgomery | 9/19/2013, 9 a.m.
For one 39-year-old Miami native, ending up in the wrong places at the right time may have led him to inevitably running an iconic community business.
Larry Charles Mitts had always had an affinity for taking photos. He graduated from Miami Northwestern Senior High where he played football — enabling him to secure a scholarship at the University of West Virginia [UWV]. There, he majored in criminal justice but found himself falling short in his academic achievements.
“When I was in college, I found myself falling behind and one of my coaches advised me to take easier courses to boost my GPA — that’s how I began to explore my passion for photography,” Mitts said.
Growing up in Florida, Mitts never got to witness the changing of the seasons so he began taking photos around campus.
“I first started to take pictures of the landscape and the scenery around campus. I never experienced the falling of leaves or snow on the ground.”
Mitts was able to improve his grades and graduated from UWV in 2000 with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. With a degree in hand, he landed a job with Transportation Security Administrations, Inc. as a lead officer. But after nine years of relative security, he says he hit a road block.
“I turned my head to a lot of wrong things that were happening,” he noted. “People were stealing things under my watch and it all came to a head — either I had to resign or face being terminated.”
Mitts chose to resign. Luckily, he had continued to develop his love for photography and was surprised with an offer that he couldn’t refuse.
A friendly neighbor that lived next door to his mother, Columbus Lee, had often invited children on the block to come over and feed his horses. But Lee shared a passion with Mitts — photography.
“I was taking photos at a little league football game one day and Lee noticed me,” Mitts recalled. “He asked if I was serious about what I was doing and handed me his card. He told me to come see him over on his shop on 79th street. I started tagging along with him to different events for the next few years. One day he asked me if I would like to take over Lee’s Photos.”
Since 2011, when Mitts became the sole proprietor, he has photographed over 100 clients throughout Miami-Dade County.
And like his mentor, Mitts is a one-man show. He has no employees working with him.
“Lee taught me far more than I ever learned in a classroom,” Mitts said. “It was all hands-on experience. He was stern but it helped because he made sure you would never forget.”
Lee died December 30th, 2011. He was 76.