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Penn Camera just declared bankruptcy!

Tom Mann , Jan 03, 2012; 07:14 p.m.

Penn Camera, arguably the best remaining camera store in the Washington, DC - Baltimore area told its employees late this afternoon that it had filed for bankruptcy, and would be closing several of its locations almost immediately. I was told that the remaining locations (Rockville, Tysons', and maybe downtown) would remain open for "a while", but photofinishing at all locations would stop immediately.

They were handing out a printed "To Our Customers" message, which, in part said, "Please be advised that we are not able to accept Penn Camera gift cards or previous deposits as payment forms. Customers who purchased gift cards or placed deposits may be able to seek reimbursement from their credit card provider through a disputed charge. For further information, you may wish to contact us at 301-210-7366 x100 or sales@penncamera.com".

This is a sad day, especially for the many highly experienced photographers that worked at Penn Camera. It is almost certainly just another example of the direction the industry is going, ie, fewer bricks and mortar stores, fewer prints being made, relatively inexperienced kids manning the counters at the chain camera stores. Ugh.

Tom M


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Michael Chang , Jan 03, 2012; 07:34 p.m.

Indeed sad, Tom, but not surprising given the overhead costs of salary, rent and inventory in the face of cut-throat pricing on-line.

On the other hand, I'm baffled by some of these business owner's failure to recognize shifting consumer habits and responding to it. It's still possible for bricks and mortar stores to do well, but not without a very strong and successful on-line presence; a fancy web site is simply not enough.

David Haas , Jan 03, 2012; 07:55 p.m.

Not surprised by this, but I am surprised and (if I had one) would be mad as hell about the gift card / deposit policy.

Gift cards and deposits are income that they (Penn Camera) have already earned. The consumer just hasn't picked out a product for it yet. So I'm guessing that they have turned the business over to a liquidation house who paid Penn pennies on the dollar for the merchandise and will sell it at full price plus over the next 2 months to suckers thinking they are getting a deal.


JDM von Weinberg , Jan 03, 2012; 07:57 p.m.

Does anybody know if there was any connection to the New York "Penn Camera" that advertised in the photo magazines in the early 50s?

I tried to look on line, and at the DC Penn's website, but could find no history. They do say that they started in 1953, which overlaps with the dates of the NYC Penn Camera ads.

Matt Laur , Jan 03, 2012; 08:28 p.m.

It's been maddening. I've been a Penn (of DC-area... not sure about the historical NYC Penn, JDM) customer for many, many years. But for the last two or three years, it's as if they've gone to a lot of trouble to not have in stock exactly the things that I take the time to drive down to one of their stores to purchase. I, and they both know that bodies and lenses aren't where the action is for a store like that any more. It's bags, Peli cases, c-stands, booms, seamless paper, printing supplies, oddball batteries, etc. And they've really come apart on that front lately.

They are the local Think Tank dealer - a product line for which I seem to have an insatiable appetite. But they never have the puch, the waterproof rig, the strap, etc from Think Tank than I'm actually looking to buy. And it's one of those lines that actually sells - everywhere! - at MSRP. It's gravy, for them. Oh well.

It's obviously a cash flow thing. But they haven't done some of the fundamental stuff that would keep local folks walking in the door. And they haven't gotten it together and created an online business that leverages their local footprint.

As David mentions, I'd be pretty damn pissed about the loss of deposits and gift card balances. But that's what happens in a bankruptcy - assets become under the control of a judge, not the management's preferences and feelings of good will towards customers. That ship has now sailed (or sunk, which might be a better analogy).

I'd like to think they could pull out of this, but the stores have felt so anemic for so long that it's hard to see a path forward. I guess I'll tamp down my feelings of pity, and switch right into Vulture Mode, and see what kind of swell deals there will be to be had as those retail stores die. It's a damn shame for the staff, but I can't imagine that any of them are surprised by this, either. The writing has been on the wall for - by my measure - three years, at least.

Harry Joseph , Jan 03, 2012; 08:58 p.m.

I'm shocked, I still have an application for a job as P/T used equipment salesman which I picked up last summer at one of their stores, but never turned it in. I wonder if they are going to have a Clearance Inventory sale, like Ritz did a couple of years ago. This is a real bummer, that leaves Ace Photo as the last remaining Photography store in the area.

Martin Lee , Jan 03, 2012; 10:18 p.m.

Bummer. Penn had its shortcomings, but I always bought there when they were within 10% of the price I could get on line (with tax, the increment was always more than 10%). But on big ticket items, they were still not always competitive. I bet a lot of it was overhead; they had a lot of expensive (and convenient) locations downtown, whereas their competition either existed in cyberspace, or in warehouse space way out in Ashburn.

David Cavan , Jan 03, 2012; 10:52 p.m.

Having lived in the DC area (northern Virginia, actually) much of the past decade I have got to the point where I just assume that I'm going to be shopping on line after more than a few failed trips to stores. Penn was my last hope and although they did come through for some things I needed in the past couple of years, the last time I was in the Penn store near Tysons, about a month ago, they had almost nothing of interest, and that's not because I already have everything I need. There was just little evidence of stock on the shelves. Ace Cameras out in Ashburn is the only remaining shop with any kind of stock that I know about in all of Fairfax and Loudon - that's in an area of over 1 million population. Too bad, I seriously doubt anyone will invest in a new shop in these times.

Matt White , Jan 03, 2012; 11:01 p.m.

Most reputable accountants would classify gift cards and deposits as balance sheet liabilities, and not as income already earned. The earning has yet to take place.
Not that it makes much real-world difference, of course. Even employees have a better chance of seeing cash than gift card holders do in a bankruptcy.

Ferrell McCollough , Jan 03, 2012; 11:24 p.m.

I know all the staff at Penn in laurel, they are a great group and always very friendly. Unfortunately I believe the main office at Penn failed to change with the times. For example they bought an Epson printer, 64" wide that sat on a pallet in the front of the store for 3 months. Printing is not popular enough today to justify the expense, the space and the technician to run it.

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