By Karen Talley
The photographer that ran the portrait studios at Wal-Mart
Stores Inc. (WMT), Sears Holdings Corp. (SHLD) and Babies "R" Us
has abruptly shuttered its business, ending a long-time retail
tradition--at least for now--at those stores.
CPI Corp., in a statement on its website, said it has closed all
of its U.S. studios "after many years of providing family portrait
photography." The St. Louis-based company didn't explain the hasty
closure, and calls to CPI went unanswered. However, the company has
struggled financially, hurt by the rise of digital photography.
The news came suddenly to the retailers. "We were notified
Thursday that CPI is ceasing its U.S. operations at retailers
across the country immediately," Sears spokesman Howard Riefs said.
CPI has provided photo services for Sears' customers since 1959 and
has been the store's only portrait studio operator since 1986,
currently located in all 788 Sears stores in the U.S. and Puerto
Sears is looking for an alternative vendor, Mr. Riefs said.
A Wal-Mart spokeswoman had no immediate comment. CPI was the
sole operator of portrait studios in all U.S. Wal-Mart stores and
CPI's financials have been deteriorating. Through the first
three quarters of its recently completed fiscal year, the company's
loss quintupled to more than $60 million, while sales fell 24% to
$192.7 million. Meanwhile, CPI's total liabilities rose 14% to
$174.8 million, and its total assets dropped 41% to $56.2 million.
These are the latest numbers publicly available for the
Last month, CPI entered into its fourth forbearance agreement
with its creditors, to whom the company owed $98.5 million. The
agreement gave the company until April 6 to repay the
Department stores have long offered portrait services at their
stores. The studios are a place where family milestones can be
captured, like a youngster's birthday or a holiday picture. The
studios also would bring in customers that could fan out and shop
in other parts of the store.
Spokespeople from the retailers said they are making sure
customers get their photos, with Wal-Mart providing them at its
customer service counters and Sears saying it is working with
CPI said in its online statement, "We are attempting to fulfill
as many customer orders as possible."
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