Wolf Cameras last three Charlotte-area locations are closing as its parent company liquidates another victim of changing technology and the demise of film.
The stores closing are in SouthPark mall, the Arboretum shopping center in south Charlotte, and Birkdale Village in Huntersville. Going-out-of business sales have already begun, and employees at the stores said theyve been told they will close by the end of October.
Maryland-based Ritz Camera & Image, which bought Wolf Camera in 2001, sought bankruptcy protection earlier this year.
But employees at local Wolf Camera stores were surprised, said a woman who works at the Birkdale Village location but did not want her name used.
Theyre not happy, thats for sure, she said of her half-dozen coworkers, who are losing their jobs.
The companys footprint in Charlotte had already shrunk substantially over the past three years. Wolf Camera had eight stores in Charlotte in 2009 as well as locations in Matthews, Pineville, Huntersville and Cornelius. Ritz as a whole operated 800 stores.
But people increasingly abandoned film and moved to printing digital pictures with online services such as Shutterfly and Snapfish. Online options for buying cameras, including from giants such as Amazon, also grew.
Ritz first filed for bankruptcy protection in 2009. The company emerged from bankruptcy the same year, after liquidating hundreds of stores. CEO David Ritz, a member of the 94-year-old chains founding family, led a group of investors who purchased the companys remaining assets for $24 million.
With only 137 stores remaining, Maryland-based Ritz filed for bankruptcy protection again in June.
The company conducted an auction last week to find a buyer willing to either keep Ritz going, or sell off all of its assets. Liquidators won, and earlier this week a bankruptcy court judge approved their plan to sell all the companys goods.
We were disappointed that we couldnt find a bidder to continue the business as a going concern, said Ritz attorney Irving Walker, according to reports.
A statement from Gordon Brothers Group and Hillco Merchant Resources, the liquidation companies handling the sale of Ritzs merchandise, said they have more than $25 million worth of items to sell.
They plan to offer discounts of up to 40 percent on merchandise including cameras, lenses, and even store furnishings.
As of last week, Wolf Camera owed more than $32,000 in rent on its SouthPark location, according to court filings from mall owner Simon Property Group.
The collapse of film cameras in favor of digital images and smart phone cameras hastened the end for many established photography companies.
Eastman Kodak which in the early 1900s ushered in the era of mass photography with its Brownie camera and Kodachrome film filed for bankruptcy protection earlier this year.
The Rochester, NY-based company was brought down by years of plummeting film sales and an inability to develop products to compete in the digital photo world with camera giants such as Canon and Nikon.
The company is cutting thousands of jobs to save $330 million worth of employee costs. Kodak hopes to emerge from bankruptcy next year, with a smaller business focused on printing, graphics and commercial films.
In other industries like publishing, technological changes are taking a similar toll.
Borders Group liquidated its hundreds of bookstores last year after it was unable to find a buyer to take the company out of bankruptcy.
The company also fell behind in the e-reader market, as Amazons Kindle and Barnes & Nobles Nook came to dominate that arena.
Borders liquidation sale was also led by Hillco Merchant Resources and Gordon Brothers. Staff researcher Maria David contributed.