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Big 'development' at National Harbor

Al Urbanski
Sip & Develop
A unique new entertainment concept has arrived at National Harbor.

In the 2017 movie “Kodachrome,” Ed Harris plays a famous photographer who travels to Kansas with his son to claim the sad honor of having his be the last roll of that film to be developed at the last processing facility in the land.

The film’s writer, Jonathon Tropper, likely never anticipated the emergence into the photographic world of Rashon Robinson. This week Robinson, who spent 20 years in the U.S. Army as a first sergeant, opens Sip & Develop at National Harbor, Peterson Companies’ massive mixed-use development in Maryland, across the Potomac River from the capital. It’s a group event concept where visitors are equipped with 35mm cameras loaded with black-and-white film (no Kodachrome) and sent out to take pictures. Upon their return, they sip wine and cocktails and are ushered into darkrooms to be exposed to the magic of film development.


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Rashon Robinson Sip & Develop
Rashon Robinson, founder of Sip & Develop

“I’d been taking pictures my whole life and would send out my film to be developed, but at the end of my government career, I got curious and started to develop my own film. I turned my basement into a darkroom,” said Robinson. “I’d have friends over for drinks and music, but nobody wanted to come into the darkroom. At some point I thought how great it would be to do parties based around guests taking pictures and then developing them themselves.”

Robinson’s first Sip & Develop shop was in Silver Spring, Md.. He closed that one and moved to the bigger 2,700-sq.-ft. shop at National Harbor, which holds 26 darkroom booths that can handle up to 26 people per session. Mainly, he wanted to be at National Harbor to have access to the varied flow of its ample traffic.

“You have vacationers, conventioneers, residents in the apartments above the shops,” Robinson noted. “This is a social business. We couldn’t create the right atmosphere with just five or six people in a party, which was the case in Silver Spring.” 

Robinson reports that Sip & Develop is a unique experience for so many of his customers who’ve taken pictures with their phones for most of their lives, though he also draws older visitors who developed their own black-and-white pictures in their youth.

“People love it. They experience three 'wow' moments,” he said. “The first is when we take the film out. The second is when they put their paper in the developing bath and see that image come up right before their eyes. And the third is when we turn the lights back on and they see the picture they just took.”

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