It’s the End of the Road for Ritz and Wolf Camera Stores

The Internet has won, and the United States’ largest camera store chain will soon go the way of the Polaroid camera. We reported earlier tonight that the entire chain of Wolf Stores was slated to be liquidated, but it turns out the damage doesn’t end there. A second source has now confirmed that the shutdowns go all the way up, and include Ritz Camera stores as well (Ritz Camera owns Wolf Camera).

The entire lineup of camera shops was purchased yesterday by Hilco, an industrial liquidation company, which plans to shut down the stores and liquidate all the assets. The Ritz warehouse has been shut down, the online printing service is going offline, and all the company’s social networking accounts have been deleted.

We hear that the stores may only be around for another 7 weeks or so, so get ready to go on a shopping spree once the liquidation sales start, and use your gift cards today!

If there’s any silver lining to this story, it’s that the photo lab and out lab services were reportedly purchased by a different company. This means that those services may re-emerge as new businesses under different names. Although buying camera gear has largely moved online, it seems that people still appreciate having local shops handle their film and digital files.

Image credit: Ritz Camera, NE corner of B’way & 88th by Ed Yourdon, 2010:07:10 16:11:20 by tracie7779

  • Jon

    “The internet has won”??? No, the moronic management of Ritz Camera, including venture capitalists who pumped in money without doing anything to clean up the place starting at the top, lost. And along with them every hard working employee and irrationally loyal customer.

    Also their printing was the worst part of their services, as nobody has an clue about color management, and you get wildly different colors from your images from one machine to the next, and even from one store to the next on the same type machine.

    (Not just an irritated ex-employee; I was a business major and I am a lifelong student of the Theory of Constraints. But regardless of your business management discipline, these guys didn’t believe in any of it, and specifically taught their own managers who were promoted from the front lines so they didn’t have any wild and crazy ideas, learned from actual education or other experience, that would rock the boat.)

  • Michael Zhang

    Good points. Brick and mortar electronics shops have been struggling in general though:

    People are simply using them to find what they want, and then going home to buy them at the lowest prices online.

  • Tomi Tarkin

    Sad but true! The actual stores and on-line stores should find a common interest to split the business interests because now the situation is such unfair for the actual stores while the on-line (and delivery services) are getting all the the profits.. In smaller buys often the delivery costs can take the price higher than bought from a store though.. :)

  • Tomi Tarkin

    interesting background information! bad companies can go no problem, and hopefully the good companies will improve their business and find even better ways to survive..

  • David Kinnear

    Interestingly, my local independent camera shop is doing fine. They have an attractive store and maintain relationships with serious photographers in the area. Nothing beats going into the store and handling the products. I cannot know how a lens will balance on my camera until I actually mount it. Of course, I never try out a product in the local store and then buy it online. If a store is good enough to stock a product and let me try it out, the store deserves the sale.

    The current move toward forcing internet retailers to collect the sales tax that buyers owe will be a good start toward saving local stores.

  • Went

    More business of all kinds are going to close because the Internet companies don’t charge sales tax and they don’t pay as many people to work which is a huge drain on profits – they usually get tax breaks others don’t BUT they hire less people or “employ” robots. Real stores do a lot for their local economy – online companies do not. Stealing is when someone goes into a local business and asks questions know what to buy then purchases it online Cameras can be difficult and most people have questions on how to use them. Go out and buy something local today because when all the shops are gone it will be you and your local economy that suffers.

  • Mansgame

    Sorry that’s a cop-out. I didn’t pay sales tax for Ritz Camera purchase a few years ago either. – only Wolf.

  • Adam Sternberg

    “The Internet has won”? What journalism school did this idiot go to? Any real photographer who has ever actually gone into a Wolf/Ritz camera in the last ten years will tell you that all they sell is low-end equipment at exorbitant prices and you’re lucky if the person behind the counter could even spell “camera”, These guys had a failed business the day they opened their doors and now they have gone the way of the DoDo just the way Best Buy is for the same reasons. The Internet had nothing to do with the Wolf/Ritz demise, it was their own incompetence and failed business model that did it. Sammy’s Camera, Adorama, B&H, they’re all doing just fine with online sales AND they all have, and started with, a brick-and-mortar business.

  • Michael Zhang

    Hi Adam,

    It’s possible to discuss, debate, and share your opinion without resorting to name calling and ad hominem attacks :)

    You’re right — I didn’t go to j-school, but how many bloggers these days did?

    Anyhow, while it’s true that Ritz probably contributed to its own downfall by not managing its stores correctly, it’s not exactly a secret that brick&mortar stores that aren’t adapting to this new Internet-driven world are struggling:

    Those businesses you named are indeed doing just fine, but B&H and Adorama adapted very well to ecommerce, and are very well known for their online presence. In 2009, B&H’s website accounted for 70% of its sales, and I suspect that the percentage has only increased since then (I’ll ask them):

    I think there’s much more we could say about this, but feel free to respond if you’d like. Thanks for the comment :D

  • Paul R

    A failed business the day they opened their doors? Ritz camera was around for almost 100 years! And only became unprofitable when digital imaging became popular. Ritz’s profitability was mainly from the photo imaging side of the business and when everything went digital everyone stopped printing.

  • Kay

    I worked for Ritz for 5 years & I am very sad to see this happen. Many people still do need help from a live person & now they won’t have that choice. The internet can only do so much. Same with printing. You won’t get the same custom service & you won’t get any where NEAR the same quality from Walmart’s photo lab. Lastly, the employees who have been loyal & stuck with Ritz now get the boot. I feel for them & I hope you all know that because of this more are jobless & struggling.

  • Jerry

    One chain will be replaced by another. The small local camera shop is really the thing of the past. You only see them now in Europe and in major cities like Chicago and NY.

  • ennuipoet

    My first camera came of a Ritz, thirty years ago. I went in with money I’d saved working and walked with a Pentax K1000 kit. The people in the store got involved with every aspect of the purchase, talked to me what I wanted to shoot now, what I saw myself doing in the future, they WERE the photography websites of the day. Flash forward thirty years and I go to the Ritz on Broadway and 88th, the one in the photo above, before it closed. I needed D76 developer, and didn’t want to go all the way downtown the B&H. Not only could I not find the developer, the person behind the counter didn’t even know what Developer WAS. I can understand if I go into a Big Box store with thousands of items and the staff has no clue. But, in a camera store, a store with a century of experience in photography? I went to B&H (which even in this giant store, has the sort of customer service like the Ritz of old.) A few weeks later, I was in the neighborhood of the Ritz on Bway and 88th and decided to see if it was just a freak occurrence. Different clerk, still no clue, ask the manager, he didn’t know what developer was either, but he sure tried to sell me on something else. I am wearing my Canon around my neck and he tried to sell me Nikon lens…and that is why Ritz Camera is no more.

  • Went

    It wasn’t the only thing that killed them, but it was one of the factors. I work in a retail environment where people come in everyday and say they can get it online. They don’t pay shipping and they pay – for our area on a camera that is $3500 – a tax of $210. By law we have to charge them tax – no matter what! Guess how many times they walk because of tax – nothing else! Because real stores are held to a different standard of rules, we lose out on sales that keep us in business on a local level. My state decided to base the budget for the state, our children’s education – everything – on the collection of sales tax but they have given Amazon the right to come to our state – property tax and sales tax FREE! By the way, when you purchased that item from Ritz “tax free” did you turn that in on your tax form at the end of the year? – You’re still obligated to pay the tax.

  • harumph

    It’s the same story with nearly every genre of retail. The only brick&mortar stores that are going to survive are the ones with a significant online business. Eventually, in the best case scenario, brick & mortar stores (camera shops, bookstores, electronics, et al) will simply become showcases for their online divisions. It’s inevitable.

    I’ve worked in retail management for most of my life, and since the fall of Tower and Virgin, I’ve watched from the inside as the same pattern repeats itself over and over again. From the outside, it seems like a retail chain is going great, and then you get inside and you realize that the brick & mortar division is just hemorrhaging money, and is being supported entirely by online sales or a semi-secret parent company. I’d bet big that Best Buy and Barnes & Noble will go within the next 5-10 years, maybe sooner. The writing is on the wall.

  • tiredofit123

    Egghead (computer parts) transitioned successfully from brick and mortar to an online store, so it’s not really the Internet has won as much as business decisions. Yes, the lack of Internet sales tax doesn’t help, as well as Ebay. However, a well run store with knowledgeable sales staff still brings people in, while a place run like a big box store will suffer.

  • tiredofit123

    Egghead (computer parts) transitioned successfully from brick and mortar to an online store, so it’s not really the Internet has won as much as business decisions. Yes, the lack of Internet sales tax doesn’t help, as well as Ebay. However, a well run store with knowledgeable sales staff still brings people in, while a place run like a big box store will suffer.

  • Steven Wright

    I’ve previously worked for wolf camera and they sucked!! But… the internet is definitely doing its job, not poor management

  • Donovan Evans

    My personal take on all this from the bottom of the trenches… Captain Hindsight will always have the upper hand in the battle for justice. But in this case I’d have to site the company’s inability to provide even the most basic of merchandise to it’s customers.

    Their downfall was not the prices. The prices were always fair in a competitive market. Most retailers offered free shipping unless the dollar amount was below a certain amount. Taxes were dependent if the patron’s state of residence was the same as the seller. Every retailer wants to make money and they were no exception.

    However when you run out of even the basic things like lens caps or filters for months at a time, it can be difficult. Customers remember the little things first. The glue to any brick and mortar are the small accessories. They always brought the traffic in. Having a local resource that can provide that in a drop of hat will win most online battles. But when those run out it doesn’t matter if you have big ticket items.

    There are many retail success out there in photography and no business is exempt from mistakes.
    They many losers in this liquidation are the those dependent on the service and those who were dependent on paycheck.
    In my humble opinion from the trenches smaller stores are the answer, but they need to be well stocked stores. If there is no inventory there are no customers. How many mom & pop stores can say they have it all… It takes someone with access to deep pockets and attract a knowledgable staff to run such a store.

    Hilco will probably be more than willing to sell you a camera store ready go for a good deal…. So who’s got those deep pockets to take their offer.

  • Janet

    I disagree and love PictureLine in Salt Lake City and Nelson Photo in San Diego.

  • Adrian Bowie

    I’m sad to see this happen! We as consumers can pick up the phone or even use your phones to go on the internet and order whatever we want. I was a customer of the Birkdale NC store and loved the employees there. It’s unfortunate that all everyone is talking about is how bad or indifferent their they feel or felt about the company. This will directly change thousands of American lives by not having a job to support themselves and their families. WOW! I wish every employee the best.

  • Eric Schatz

    This story will end up just like CompUSA, with trade names and livery being bought by some internet spammer selling closeout schlock.

  • Christopher Schiebel

    Ritz and Wolf didn’t adapt. That was the problem. They let other newcomers take away any internet presence they could have had. They could have been mpix or somebody else.

  • Michael Dixon-Brooks

    The Ritz store in the mall in downtown Seattle has been gone a long while. I always prefer the local professional camera store so I can handle stuff and buy immediately when I want it rather than wait.

  • Sid Ceaser

    What happens where there are no more B&M stores to go and handle the goods?

    I worked a few days a week for a local mom & pop camera store that had been on our Main Street for over 60 years. Three generations of the family worked and ran the store. They were good people, loved to talk, loved to take cameras and lenses and gear out so you could touch it, get to know it. They invested more than just casual conversation – they would make customers for life. Discussions were less about cameras, and more about family.

    The last few years I was there, I could see it happen. People would come in, handle a camera body for upwards of two hours, change lenses, ask every question they could, then they would do one of two things:

    • Tell the owner they can get that camera for $XXX.xx cheaper online, and what are they going to do to correct that. Often the owner couldn’t come back that low. I saw the prices he paid direct from Nikon or Canon for those bodies – Online prices were lower than what the owner had to pay direct from the source.

    • Customers wouldn’t even do that. They’d thank the owner, then just leave. Weeks later, those customers would come in with their brand new camera (the one they spent hours in this store manhandling) and they they’d have more questions about how to get it to do so-and-so, or to just show off their new purchase.

    It was irritating.

    I love the little independent stores that know their craft, or trade, or passion so much that you can spend an entire day with them talking about it. I want indie record stores, movie shops, camera stores, etc. I want things that create human conversations, and can send you away inspired and recharged.

    The more these stores go away, the less human interaction we have, the less we interact with people with the same interests and passions, the more we all suffer because of it in the end.


  • Laurie Long

    All I can say is this is such sad news. I have used Annapolis Mall in Md Ritz camera for years and they have taken me from printing bad at best 3×5 prints of my grandchildren to a true hobby I love and printing beautiful wildlife,making,books,canvas,aluminum,metallic,deepmat, mugs,cards,collages, photo patrol, I could go on & on. Most of all I have met the most kind,knowledgeable ,friendly staff that I have grown to call friends & family. I am devastated for them losing their jobs/lively hood. For myself this hobby they taught me has given me something to focus on going through a very difficult time with my health & recovering from major heart surgery. They taught me everything, helped me and became very important to me. I am lost now to where I will print and manipulate my pics & make my books,gifts & things . The wrapping paper was a huge hit & lots of fun. What about all the work & labeling and organizing on ritz pix. I will lose all that & that hurts. They were an amazing team& I hope they get amazing careers but I will miss going in to ritz, I will miss them & I will miss my hobby and all my ritz pix I am losing. I can’t find anyone who knows how to save it & I have had trouble with the sight however I am technologically impaired but was darn good at the in store kiosks after the amazing staff their took the time to teach a slow learner but I learned

  • Steph Z

    I tend to disagree with this. Ive worked in several labs and do not care for the new ink based photos. The Fuji frontiers, when operated correctly put out absolutely stunning photos; I used to service them for a long time. I am a photographer myself and am very picky about color theory. Anyhow, I worked at ritz for 3 years, and we took care of everything to the best of the instructions that were listed for us. The company’s demise is their competition with online photo equipment. There will be a gaping hole in same day services. I pray that everyone who will be searching for jobs has the best of luck ;)

  • Closer to home then you think

    Someone said this below (“The internet has won”??? No, the moronic management of Ritz Camera). ~~~ and they hit it right on the head. If Dave Ritz could ever see this message, just know it was your managers and DM’s who took down your company. Starting with Carol in your home office location. They treated employees and customers like the dirt you spit on.

  • Steven Ford

    I agree with John below. Pictureline is thiving as are thw two internet Giants in NYC with bribks and mortar locations. Sammy’s ROCKS L.A. Adolf Gasser in San Francisco same story. There will always be a place for camera experts and good service in EVERY major location in the world. Just no place for retailers with a penchant for overcharging and misrepresenting. I shoped at Ritz in Ct. At Wolf in Colorado, and Inkley’s in Utah. None of them were compeition for Sammy’s or Pictureline.. “Rock on Jen’s, with all the GOOD people you have hired!”

  • Dr Nelson Clemens

    David Ritz is a 2nd generation owner of the company… It is not the Venture Capital guys you blame. VC guys don’t infuse vast amounts of money into something just to lose it. I am sure they though they could fix it. I know it is popular to blame them for everything wrong in the world, but that is simply the lazy persons way of avoiding thinking deeply. The problem is David Ritz grew up with out ever having to work and figure things out. Therefor he is a lousy manager. Rad the post below from JimmeeNO about him walking into a store on Christmas Eve below. There is a reason wealth only last 3 generations.

  • Dcsilvap

    Very sad news. Like many of you, for many years I also purchased my photo goodies at Wolf/Ritz and I will miss the Dadeland Mall store in Miami, and my favourite salesperson Sonia Sanchez (an awesome photo professional) that after 17 years working therek, faces this very unhappy ending. My sympathies for all those workers, let’s hope their rights are respected.

  • Chris Topher

    I worked for Ritz Camera in southern Ca for about 8 years. That was about 14 years ago now from my last position with them. I probably worked in about 8 stores during that time from Santa Monica to Covina and Beverly Hills. I went from Sales, to Lab tech, to Manager. They did regular training but it was done so poorly that if it weren’t for my personal interests in the products and services, I’d feel bad for the customers. I basically had to teach myself all about color and the way the machines worked. Heck I even hacked the”Create a Print” machine with Photoshop and was doing in-house digital restorations. Gear was a whole other thing. I was working there during the transition from film to digital. I loved learning about all the new tech and did my best to give customers what they wanted.

    One problem though was that the majority of other employees were just warm bodies doing as little as possible to collect a paycheck. And the company did very little to correct that. In my whole time there David Ritz and his cohorts would come out to tour the stores and inevitably would stop at a couple of them and then hit up the SoCal nightlife…. I guess, I mean I never saw them. There were about 12 stores in our district and I think maybe one other manager ever met any of the top brass.

    I had a couple good district managers and a couple poor ones. And one that was absolutely horrible. As a manager I fell into that “NO OVERTIME” / “NOT HIRING NEW EMPLOYEES” trap and basically worked tons of hours off the clock for the good of our team. Eventually I was fired on suspicion of theft. LOL!!! I don’t know what that district manager had against me but… well it was probably because I couldn’t take her seriously as a boss.

    Anyway, I learned a lot during those times and even have close friends from that period of time still today. Am I surprised that Ritz tanked??? Not at all!!!

  • Mark Blakey

    I helped start Boaters’s World in Annapolis Maryland back in 1988 with our first store. Assisted in opening the Virginai Beach, Hampton, Mays Landing, Charleston (manager of and flagship store), Wilmington, Savannah, Jensen Beach, Richmond and numerous others. From the beginning we frick’in rocked! Everyone was pumped, great attitudes, good product, great prices, new and clean stores, awesome customer service, management listened to local managers, INCENTIVES for SMs and DMs. Things drastically changed with the introduction of inexperienced buyers (some receiving kickbacks and some not even having run profitable stores). All buying done at HQ in Beltsville. Store managers opinions and expertise no longer mattered. Documented losses of $240,000 per week from my eight (8) stores due to “out of stock” items. In reality the products where at the Denton warehouse but the “brilliant” powers to be felt that our customers would be willing to pay up front and wait for the product(s) to come in on the truck the following week. I fought and screamed but to no avail. Watched in horror as dollars left our store, hopped in their cars and drove down the road to our competition (West Marine). Our solution? Force associates to sell high profit ESP’s (Extended Service Policies) and the almighty Captain’s Club Card. Poor selection on card lead to negativity on all sides. Saw the end coming, resigned and said you will be out of business in five (5) years. 4 and a half years later my words became true. We grew too fast, after second generation managers became diluted, HQ knew better and the rest is history. The Falcon jet, 53′ Bertram, 106′ Hakvoort and 174′ Ocean Fast most likely didn’t help our bottom line either. Neither did the large tree relocation at the Annapolis summer home. Greed and lawyers have ruined this country.

  • Photog, teacher, Master Salesm

    There was lots of innovative talent, but with each contraction the same milquetoast-up fire-breathing dragon-down managers were retained. Innovation was winnowed out, viciousness retained. It was all about gimmicks with little/no customer value. Eventually, we were desperately trying to make money by selling, instead of stealing. The ethical people bailed with time, taking centuries of experience and knowledge. When I joined, I loved to tell people that, “Ritz hires photographers.” When I left, there were children, sharks, and the despairing. David Ritz’ father was a great man…