Beltville, Maryland-based Ritz Camera & Image LLC will soon close its entire retail chain consisting of 137 locations, 10 in Atlanta, branded locally as Wolf Camera. Ritz Camera & Image LLC was just the most recent incarnation of a long list of camera & film companies.
Ritz Camera dates back to 1918, and ultimately the chain consisted of over 1,200 locations across 48 states.
About this time last year, Filene's Basement, another well known and historic retail brand met its end. After a number of changes in ownership and repeated bankruptcy filings, the company, which was by then a subsidiary of SYMS, closed. The last Filene's Basement closed December 29th 2011, wrapping up a long retail run that began in 1908 in Boston.
Fox Photo, which I recall being around town in the early 1990s, was one of the first of the photo chains to be purchased and in some ways started a chain reaction that is ending now with the demise of Ritz. Between 1986 and 1991, Fox Photo was bought and sold by Eastman Kodak twice and a for a third and final time in 1998 when the chain was sold to Wolf Camera. Wolf Camera was started in 1974 by Chuck Wolf , nephew of Edward Ritz, founder of Ritz Camera. At this point Wolf Camera was second in store count to Ritz Camera. Financially strained by the purchase of Fox, Wolf Camera filed for bankruptcy in 2001 and was eventually sold to Ritz Camera.
Ritz Camera, now itself strained from its purchase of Wolf filed for bankruptcy in early 2009. After closing a few hundred locations the chain was purchased by a private group that included company president David Ritz. The group renames the company Ritz Camera & Image LLC and brought in Stephen LaMastra, previously President of Raving Brands, now known as Big Game Brands as President and CEO of Ritz Camera in late 2009. LaMastra claimed he would "refocus" the stores and make them profitable again. LaMastra stepped down from his role this past June. Also in June the company again filed for bankruptcy and a September 6th auction failed to find a buyer to continue operations for the beleaguered chain and instead the company was sold to liquidators. It's unclear when stores will begin liquidation sales or when the last store will close. I'd guess sales start soon to take advantage of holiday shopping dollars.
A helpful guide and timeline to the crazy Ritz / Wolf camera saga can be found here
Wolf Camera was once like Sunglass Hut is today, with multiple locations in the same mall or general area. Northlake Mall comes to mind as at least one mall that has two Wolf Camera locations, one on the upper level near what was then a Gap store in the Sears wing, and yet another on the lower level near J.C. Penney and Chick-fil-A. Both locations have since closed, as did the Fox Photo turned Wolf Camera in nearby Briarcliff Village that today operates as a Smoothie King.
For many years Wolf Camera thrived on its bread and butter businesses of selling cameras and developing film. As the internet continued to evolve and printing at home became as easy as bottling one's own water, Wolf Camera began to struggle. Digital cameras and advancements in film technology brought even more trouble to the retail chain's bottom line.
Wolf Camera has had some pretty awesome locations over the years such as its now demolished store located at 14th Street and Techwood Drive in Midtown, and its current location at the front of Lenox Square. The 14th Street location was to be relocated to Atlantic Station, and initial work had begun, but amidst growing financial issues and decreasing market share, the camera retailer abandoned those plans. (Which Wich has since opened in the space.)
Wolf Camera has two other locations in Buckhead: one on Piedmont Road adjacent to La Fourchette and Tartufo, and the other in the West Paces Ferry Shopping Center, anchored by Publix. Another potentially attractive location is in Sandy Springs Plaza on Roswell Road in Sandy Springs.
With so many places to get film developed from CVS to Costco and others to buy film like Walmart and online, it's sad but not surprising to see this closure.
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