Penn Camera just declared bankruptcy!

Discussion in 'Casual Photo Conversations' started by tom_mann|1, Jan 3, 2012.

  1. 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".
    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
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. I am NOT an attorney. I have not had any recent bankruptcy dealings. However, in past times I have been a creditor both secured and unsecured many times in bankruptcy proceedings.
    If I remember right, and back then (bankruptcy laws have been changing according to who pays the politicians the most money), most deposits were, although held by the bankrupt, not the property of the bankrupt. Deposits were being held in contemplation of a future dealing. If the future dealings took place then the ownership of the money would pass at that time. Because that “transferring” transaction had not taken place the deposit would not be part of the bankruptcy assets. Unfortunately, it was my experience that most of the time the bankruptcy trustees declared deposits to be part of the bankruptcy assets knowing that most deposit owners could not afford to go through the legal process to recover their property.
    On the other hand, most “early payments” like gift cards were treated as if title to the money had passed to the bankrupt. The entity that paid the money would then be treated either like a secured or unsecured creditor, depending upon whether that money was paid on behalf of a properly secured item or not. In addition, if you had properly filed a UCC1 showing the money as a secured asset, a court might be able to put you in the secured asset pool, rather than the unsecured asset pool. To my knowledge, nobody has filed a UCC1 over a gift card.
  12. " relatively inexperienced kids manning the counters at the chain camera stores. "
    I don't really see that as a liability, Tom.
    Given the number of choices available to consumers in every product category, salespeople, no matter how experienced or knowledgeable, can only contribute a point of view based on personal opinion, and modern consumers know that.
    The savvy approach these days is to do ones own research, look for the best available price, make judgements about value, convenience, cost/benefit on where to buy, then make the purchase. Salespeople rarely have any influence on a purchase decision because consumers are largely well informed and have pretty much made up their minds before walking in. Scrolling through 50 reviews on will arguably be more useful to the consumer than talking to a salesman, even if the reviews are contradictory.
    Bricks and mortar still has value if businesses know how to run them. In fact places such as Tigerdirect began as Internet-only but migrated into the retail sector with many stores, and doing well because they know how to appeal to the tech-savvy consumer, ensure positive purchase experiences, and offers no hassle return policies.
    In short, I think businesses are successful because of the people running them regardless of their physical presence or lack of, and they are successful because consumers embrace them.
  13. Hi Michael - I agree with all you said -- to a point. I guess the reason that I made the statement about inexperienced staff is because even in this day and age, there are still many naive consumers who don't fit into the category you described.
    I have personally witnessed the interactions of many of these folks in the local camera stores with inexperienced help. They go in looking for advice and get sold things they don't need, are given absurd technical advice, etc. I feel terribly sorry for them, and on more than one occasion, approached them with a "I happened to hear what you were discussing with the clerk..." type of comment.
    Gotta run.
    More later,
    Tom M
  14. Brick and mortar book stores and Those who survive this will have to have a large footprint in the online market.
  15. There was a Penn Camera in downtown Pittsburgh at one time in the 1970's, not sure whether they're even around anymore. I bought my Yashica Mat 124G there in 1974 for 99.00.
  16. "Bricks and mortar still has value if businesses know how to run them."
    If you visit B&H or Adorama in NYC they are Brick & Mortar shops always have been since I can remember. There is an actual store with tellers and salesmen and there is equipment lying around in showcases and on racks. They are not some mysterious warehouse located in the middle of nowehere, although they do have warehouses located elsewhere around the country. So how were they able to make it, while other smaller shops folded ?
    At one point if I remember correctly these two stores were considered mom & pop shops just like the hundreds of other photography stores in that area. I haven't been back in the area lately, but last time I looked, allot of those convenient photography stores had either closed shop, or were offering different types of goods.
  17. This stinks. I use Penn in Tyson's regularly for gear rentals. I know the rental counter guy and enjoy BSing with him when I pick up gear. I'd be bummed to lose the ability to rent locally. I know, etc. exist, but sometimes I don't plan days/weeks in advance of needing a lens. It was nice to know I could drive a mile from the office and pick one up.
    If they do end up closing their brick-and-mortar stores, they could continue their sales store online, and open a small local storefront (in a less pricey part of town) that only did rentals. Oh well...I can dream, can't I?
  18. Now that I think about it (on the gift cards) - I remember vaguely someone saying that when Borders was going into bankruptcy to spend your gift cards and spend them fast. Like before they actually announced the filing. I believe it was for the reasons stated - that you are basically treated like an unsecured creditor at that point, even though they do have your cash.
    And sure enough - looking through my trash bin, I found an email from borders saying that they would no longer accept gift cards.
    As for stores closing and going away - the Penn saga sounds somewhat like the Ritz Camera one - although Ritz has somehow managed to survive - for now.
    Ritz used to have a store on every corner (or so it seemed) and in every mall. Some of that was due to consolidation - they bought Pro-ex and a couple of others and just never, ever consolidated. At one point there were no fewer than 4 Ritz locations in a 10 square block area of downtown Minneapolis. 3 of them were full service locations - meaning they had studios, camera's, gear, etc... 1 was an express photo place only.
    Story was the same at all them though - they had a limited supply of "good" stuff - usually were lacking the newest prosumer bodies and rarely had "pro" lenses. They all had a large selection of SunPak / Quantary and a large supply of consumer point and shoots which you could always find cheaper elsewhere. Add to the fact that 90% of their "staff" had no clue about photography or sales and it was a receipe for disaster. I still remember the one clerk breaking down in tears because he could not get a magazine I wanted to scan the bar code.
  19. If you have Penn Camera gift cards, they're still being accepted for online purchases as of about an hour ago. Recommend you use them asap. Suspect they won't be accepted much longer. Good luck.
  20. I just heard on the radio that there is going to be a clearance sale, unfortunately I'm broke...
  21. gary r - I don't know where you live, but Ace Photo in Ashburn (just north of Dulles airport) has rentals, and quite frankly is a much better store than Penn has been for some time.
  22. The worst news is the loss of some really great employees. Lets hope that they find suitable employment soon.
  23. "If you visit B&H or Adorama in NYC they are Brick & Mortar shops always have been since I can remember. ..... So how were they able to make it, while other smaller shops folded ?"
    Harry, I think it's because these stores have built brand equity over the years and smart enough to keep up with the times while capitalizing on it. It's all about reinventing oneself or face an unpleasant alternative.
    It would have been just as easy to run B&H or Adorama into the ground had it not been for the smarts of the folks running it.
  24. "I have personally witnessed the interactions of many of these folks in the local camera stores with inexperienced help. They go in looking for advice and get sold things they don't need, are given absurd technical advice, etc."
    I look at it this way, Tom.
    What's the worst that can happen in a big box store staffed by inexperienced salespeople? Cameras are so well made these days that it's almost impossible to make a "bad" choice, and even "better" choices are subject to debate. A customer might be persuaded to purchase at some percentage above the lowest on-line price padded by extended warranties and useless accessories, but amortized over the life of the camera and pleasure derived from it, the difference will be negligible from that sold by an experienced salesperson in a different store.
    I guess it's the same whether the product is a car, a lawnmower, or a camera - an uninformed client enters a store at his own peril, but these days the penalty is usually contained to within a few percentage of the lowest possible price.
  25. Penn has been on the decline for sometime now, about 10 years I would say. I have been going there since the late 80's so I have been able to see them slide off into oblivion. In addition to hearing some bizarre advice by some employee who had some mantra they really have failed to keep up with the times. They kinda pulled back in a few years back, I felt, when they had some ink jet printers, paper types, and inks all on hand. That normally, I would only be able to look at a picture at online. But, that only lasted for a short while.
    I have seen this before when I worked at a bicycle shop. What happened is that the founder/owner decided to retire and sold his stores off. One by one, they all went out of business except for the very original one. You need that combination of the older, experienced business man to run the financials, and the younger, "in-tune", floor managers to keep on eye on trends and to keep things attractive for customers.
    Overall, it is sad. I always hoped they'd pull it back together.
  26. For people in the DC area, L'Imagerie on Rockville Pike in Bethesda is still there and they do great work. I take my E6 there.
  27. I just heard about the filing. I'm upset to say the least. Penn Camera is not just a camera store. It's a place where young photographers can be inspired. It's a place where seasoned photographers can come in to brag about their latest gig. It's a place where out-of-town pros (and locals), can rent equipment they need quickly, and can either not afford to purchase nor transport profitably. It's a place where great professional photographers like Bob, Ken, and others' smiles like Barbara's, and George greet you as you walk into the doors of 9th and E St. It's a place where you can find the most difficult to locate accessory, or no longer manufactured "whatchamacallit" to make your shoot go smoothly. It's a place that never was a has and will always be a community of great people whose mission has always been to assist the world in capturing, seeing, and documenting the beauty that surrounds it.

    From the first day I walked in that door as a teenage kid and saw all of those great Black & Whites and Cibachrome 16x20s & 20x24s on the wall above the four days ago, New Year's Eve, minutes after closing time when the manager signaled the clerk to unlock the door so I could buy 150 cardboard frames, lens cleaner, and 4x6 paper for a gig that had just come through.... Just try ordering from B&H on one of their many closed Fridays or weekends.
    I have always loved my hometown camera store and the people who worked there. You guys helped change this poor kid from Northeast DC's life, and I will never ever forget it. Thanks to all of the staff and managers there for being beyond a blessing to me, my family, my clients, and now my photography students. So what they didn't always have something in stock, I've seen the same of Amazon and B&H as well as other stores. And whoever said that Ace is the last one left in the area, you're wrong. Embassy still exists, Pro Photo and a few others, but none of them have ever been quite like Penn Camera. So, somehow just saying thanks doesn't seem to cut it.

  28. Adorama has earned my loyalty through superb customer service. BTW, I am an attorney and represented the suppliers
    in the Ritz bankruptcy.
  29. I would like to say I am shocked, but am not. Over recent months, my visits to the Rockville store have been depressing to say the least. Folks at Penn have always been helpful and enthusiastic, but the selection has always left a lot to be desired and I can imagine the problems they had competing at any level with J&R, B&H, Adorama and others. Considering that the remaining Ritz stores are also pretty poor in terms of selection, this leaves our area with nothing.
  30. It's always sad when a major specialty retail presence hits the ropes, but I had found my dealings with Penn less and less satisfying over the past few years. I've been using Photocraft (in Burke) for almost 10 years now, buying Leica, Nikon, Zeiss, and Fuji gear (plus my brief flirtation with Olympus digital). They are a family business and their prices have been good. While certainly no B&H or Adorama, if you're in Fairfax County, I'd suggest a visit, or check out their web site.
  31. @Derrel What a nice tribute to Penn Camera and their employees. I have also appreciated the knowledge that they have and share. Living in Laurel I was often in their store, sometimes buying sometimes just asking for advice. I will certainly miss the convenience of having a store in my back yard!
  32. @David Cavan Thanks David! I've never been to Ace, but I've heard good things about them. I didn't know they rented gear. I'll definitely check them out.
  33. Having gone through what Penn is going through, I first want to let everyone working at Penn to know that "this too shall pass" and I hope the three stores come out of this strong and in tact. I am currently a District Manager in the Balt/DC area with Ritz and have had to make many sacrifices for my career over the last couple of years (including demotion and moving across country). I have seen many good people lost and have had to deal with the struggles of competing with online, having stock/services issues that effect my ability to get customers the things they need and all the struggles of trying to be competitive in todays climate. These are difficult times to be sure.
    You may think that I would be happy to see a competitor in trouble, but I assure you I am not. I have been in the Photo Industry my entire adult life. I did not choose it to become rich. I chose it because Photography is what I love and I have developed some of the most interesting and rewarding relationships with others in this industry (that includes "customers"). I have watched the industry go though incredible changes over the last 25 years and it saddens me to see the struggles that many camera stores are experiencing today. I think there is a place for the photo specialty retailer and a need for us. The fewer there are means the less strength we have as a whole.
    I hear a message of the same sadness and concern in these threads and I want to try to help. To any current member of Penn's Imaging club - I would like to offer you enrollment into our Frequent Foto Club for free. Just bring in your membership card to any of our local stores. If you were going to attend a free camera class - contact any of our stores in the area and we will add you to our free class list. Anyone that has a gift card - I have no way to redeem them, but I will let you turn the card in and get 25% off any one Imaging sale of any amount (prints, canvas, video transfer and the like). I know that is not much, but I had to turn people away when we filed and it is something I can offer to ease some pain and maybe earn a little loyalty.
    I would also ask anyone that has specific product needs (gaffers tape, backgrounds, B&W supplies or anything else) to contact Susan (store manager), Mike or Darrell at our downtown DC location on L street (202.861.7710) and let them know what products you need or would like to see on hand. We have some limited purchasing ability in this store and would like to do all we can to have the products that you need. They have started a list to give to our Purchasing Department. We recently brought Canon back into our stores in limited capacity and I have already asked our Purchaser to increase our local selection and depth if at all possible. It is one location in the heart of DC and I know what I can do will be limited right now, but my team & I will do all we can to help.
  34. As a high school photography teacher I am crushed to see Penn file. In the last 8 years I've sent literally hundreds of kids there and can't remember a single time a kid had a bad experience finding a used film camera for class. They often got "hooked" and would return to the store mid-year confident in their craft and would brag to me about the new filters they bought or the fiber paper they bought to enhance their experience at school. The guys at the counter probably recognized themselves in my kids because they treated them so well, knowing how exciting it is when you are first starting. All of us were probably treated similarly and it's how the craft is transferred from one generation to the next. It's a sad day coming when all our kids will know about cameras is that they are what you use to make your facebook page. I really hate to see the guys go especially at the Rockville store where they've treated my high school kids so well. I also want to thank Art in the educational/government sales dept. who could send me 200 packs of Ilford RC paper the very next day when I would call him in a panic because we ran out. Now because of our school system I will be forced to use Freestyle in CA and overpay for shipping while I wait an extra week.
    I wish the employees all the best and hope they land on their feet quickly.
  35. I have been going to Penn for almost thirty years and let me say that I am heartbroken. Those of you from the D.C. area know that there are more than one Penn location which meant almost no matter where you live in this area, there was a store within a short driving distance from your home. In the age of buying gear online, I still prefer buying my equipment in a real brick and mortar store, and Penn, as far as I'm concerned, was the best. Say what you want, but if I'm paying $1500.00 for a lens, I would prefer to return it in person if there was something wrong, and at Penn, they always had the utmost respect for their customers as they were pros themselves. A few times I would go into the store looking for something I saw in magazine thinking that I needed the item to expand my photographic skills, and the people at Penn would always help me figure out if I really needed the item or not. Even at the risk of losing a sale. I can't tell you how many times I would get back home and realize how grateful I was for not wasting my money on something that I didn't need. This is what kept me going back over and over again. I agree with Mike Seymour as the Rockville store was my store as well. Those guys were the best. So many times I would go in to buy something real quick to beat the traffic home, only to find myself spending at least an hour wandering through the store and talking to the people behind the counter swapping great stories of photography. You ain't getting that in an online store.
  36. I just drove down Route 7 in Tyson's and there was a one of those human billboard guys at the corner of 7 and International Dr. with a "Penn Camera Clearance Sale, Up to 30% off everything" sign. *sigh*
  37. I have been to the Pikesville location only once. While I was there they were having some kind of demos going on with factory reps from Canon, I believe. I have been getting their e-mails about the classes that they run and always meant to sign up for one, but never got around to it.
  38. Boyd Miller....
    You're a smart guy. You've made a timely outreach that will save value for the unfortunate past Penn Camera customers and should increase your sales and profits. I can see why Ritz Camera kept you.
    The small cost to offer your photo club and camera classes to those who just lost them, and a discount to who would otherwise get nothing for the gift cards, should well be offset by the increase in sales that will accrue to the Ritz Cameras involved and the goodwill that Ritz Camera will receive in general by photo enthusiasts.
    It was just nice to see somebody within a large corporation use their head to make a good risk/reward ratio decision that puts both their employer and the camera-buying public in a win-win situation.
    Well done.
  39. The Penn Camera in downtown DC moved form this rinky dinky spot on 14th steet to a newer refurbished spot on E street and 9th several years ago. When I visited the the new store, the guys there recognized me and asked if I was still going to school. This is where I use to buy all my darkroom stuff.
    I thought they were doing pretty good. Until I think it was last year I noticed there was this kind of low morale going around, I could sense it. One of the problems with the new store was trying to find parking space, although it was a little easier than the other spot on 14th street. I usually took public transportation.
    The Tysons corner store had ample parking space and the salesmen there where a little friendlier. I once went there to buy some seamless paper when I saw this used JOBO CPE2 processor in mint condition for sale. A salesman there asked me "You like it I'll give it ot you for 25 bucks". I was so surprised that I immediately stuffed the processor in my trunk and rushed home. It still works incase I want to get back into film development.
    This is where I use to buy my Epson ink cartridges. When I was working on a job and I suddenly ran out of Ink, I would hop in my car and in 15-20 minutes I could buy some ink with no hassles.
    When the construction for the expanded Metro started though, getting to Tysons Corner became an absolute nightmare. It would take 1+ hours just to get there from my house. I asked one of the salesmen there how long was this going to be going on, he said "until the year 2014". That's when I started ordering ink online from the Epson website.
  40. I work just around the corner from the Tysons store, and can fight my way over there through traffic - I plan to check it out this week. Last time I was there it didn't feel like a very happy and motivated place, and had little stock that I could actually handle. It would be great if it gets back to some kind of reasonable form simply because it's close. If all the employees left have Boyd Miller's motivation and perspective I've say they have a chance.
  41. Got a $600 gift card in Nov. in exchange for a return. I called the E street store this morning and they
    said they will not accept gift cards. I just called my friend, a bankruptcy lawyer to see what I can do.
    Haven't heard back yet. Anyone heard anything? Thanks.
  42. Deborah - it was just on News 4 tonight at 6 pm that Penn has reversed their decision on gift cards and will start honoring them. I would get there soon. Maybe they have planned to wipe out their debt with this bankruptcy and re-open with fewer stores so they are trying to save any good will towards the company. Who knows? Best of luck.
  43. Just saw on channel 4 that Penn reversed their decision and would honor gift cards. I would run down tomorrow and use it before they
    change their mind.

    I haven't shopped at Penn in years since Ace photo in Ashburn is closer and I have always been happy with their printing and service.
  44. Penn Camera has been scooped up by Calumet Photographic, and the E St., Tysons, and Rockville stores will continue to operate under the Penn Camera banner. Calumet is expanding the range of products on offer, both for sale and for rent. This is very good news for the DC photo community!
  45. And now Calumet is gone, leaving some of their former customers and employees high and dry from a BK as well. Old news, but this thread needed updating.
  46. For me, the best part about Penn/Calumet was having a local place to grab rental equipment last-minute. Since the closing, Jerry (the tall guy who ran the rental department) has established F8 Rentals (also on Facebook) based in Reston, VA. Definitely worth checking out if you need something fast and can't/don't want to wait for a mail-order rental to arrive.
    (For the record, I'm not affiliated. Just sharing a handy-to-have service.)

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