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North Huntingdon native helps preserve memories, archives

Tony LaRussa
| Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014, 9:01 p.m.
Some of the old technology that is converted to new format at Rewind Memories in Squirrel Hill on Thursday February 13, 2014.
Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
Some of the old technology that is converted to new format at Rewind Memories in Squirrel Hill on Thursday February 13, 2014.
Adam Kunes, a North Huntington native, is the owner of Rewind Memories in Squirrel Hill on Thursday February 13, 2014 which converts “old” media such as 16mm and 8mm film, VHS, Beta and audio cassettes into a digital format.
Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
Adam Kunes, a North Huntington native, is the owner of Rewind Memories in Squirrel Hill on Thursday February 13, 2014 which converts “old” media such as 16mm and 8mm film, VHS, Beta and audio cassettes into a digital format.

Adam Kunes is on a mission to keep memories alive.

As the North Huntingdon native marks the third year of his business converting “old” media such as movie film, videotapes and snapshots into a digital format, he is expanding to reach a wider audience.

“I never really set out to start a business doing this,” said Kunes, who launched Rewind Memories as a part-time venture in 2006 and opened a shop in 2011 in Pittsburgh's Squirrel Hill neighborhood, where all the work is performed.

“I was involved in a Semester at Sea program while in college and made a slide show using the photos I took along the way,” said Kunes, 26, who has a degree in communications from the University of Pittsburgh.

“When I showed it to family members, an uncle asked me if I could take an old VHS tape he wanted to turned into a DVD, which I was glad to do,” Kunes said.

While Kunes did not have access to professional editing equipment at the time, he owned high-quality video cameras that he was able to “bootstrap” together to convert the tape.

“It turned out pretty good, and I began doing more and more conversions for family members and friends,” he said.

After doing a little research, Kunes realized that there was a significant market for the service, he said.

“There are lots of people with old home movies that were taken on various film and video formats,” he said. “But in many cases, they don't have the equipment to show it any longer or don't want to risk damaging the original by running it through an old machine.”

Rewind Memories uses special equipment that prevents damage to the items being converted, he said.

For instance, the gear used to convert movie film does not have sprockets, which can tear fragile film, or the high-temperature bulbs that are used in movie projectors.

“If a film gets hung up in a regular movie projector, it's going to melt the film,” he said. “That's not a risk with the equipment we use.”

Kunes said the cost to convert old media into a digital format can vary greatly, depending on the condition of the original items and how much is being transferred.

“There's no quick way to convert a two-hour VHS tape or movie — it has to be run from beginning to end,” he said. “But I tell people that this is an investment in preserving their memories, and the original material is only going to deteriorate more as time passes.”

While the bulk of his business comes from people who want to preserve items that have personal importance, Rewind Memories' clients include Carnegie Mellon University, St. Vincent College, Allegheny County, the Sen. John Heinz History Center and the Norwin Public Library.

Diana Falk, director of the Norwin Public Library, said Kunes helped the library preserve video and slides of community events by converting them to the DVD format.

“There's a great deal of civic pride in this area, and anything about local history is very popular,” she said. “The materials that were converted were photo slides and old footage from community picnics from about 50 or 60 years ago that we received on a VHS tape. We feel that it's very important to preserve this historical material.”

While the library still occasionally loans VHS tapes from its collection, the format mostly has been replaced by DVDs, which are far more durable and can be loaned to more patrons, Falk said.

While the majority of his customers “just want to get their old movies or photos on a DVD they can watch on TV” the company can cater to a more tech-savvy clients, Kunes said.

“If they want their items stored on a cloud-based server for backup or to access the material we can arrange to have that done,” he said.

To reach a wider audience for his services, Kunes has begun marketing online and launched an e-commerce site that will be marketed nationally. He also has started offering a pickup service for customers in a 30-mile radius of Pittsburgh.

Kunes said the work he has been doing for clients “is often a very personal experience.”

“People realize that digitizing a box of old family photos or films and videotapes means that these things will be preserved long into the future,” he said. “It's not uncommon for customers to break down in tears or give us a big hug when we return their completed projects.”

Kunes said the first “moving image” he saw of his grandfather occurred when he converted a home movie made on film for his father.

“It was pretty amazing, and I really came to understand how truly personal these things can be for people,” he said.

Tony LaRussa is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-856-7400, ext. 8626.

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