Sears and Walmart Unexpectedly Shutter Portrait Studios


After years of providing portrait services to local families and high school seniors, both the Sears and PictureMe portrait studios (the latter found in Walmart) have closed their doors for good. The news has been breaking slowly via local outlets as Sears and PictureMe employees nationwide found themselves without a job Thursday morning — some having receiving the news as late as Wednesday night.

Visiting either the Sears or PictureMe websites at this point yields the same message, with only the studio name changed:

After many years of providing family portrait photography, we are sad to announce our Sears Portrait Studios are now closed. We appreciate your patronage and allowing us to capture your precious memories. If you currently have an album or have had a recent portrait session, you can order products at thru April 18, 2013.

If you have had a recent session, your portraits may be available at your local studio.


According to the St. Louis Dispatch, all 2,700 Sears and PictureMe studios are run by CPI Corp, which is shutting down U.S. operations this week after defaulting on their loans. The company’s fourth forbearance agreement with lenders expires this Saturday, and no additional banks or buyers have stepped forth to save the sinking ship.

In a letter circulating among employees, company CEO Jim Abel explained, quite simply, that the “decline of our business proved too great an obstacle to overcome.”

(via St. Louis Post Dispatch via WCPO)

Image credit: Sears Unexpectedly Shuts Down Photo Studio (1) and (2) by KOMUnews

  • Looking at me

    In canada too??

  • Hugo Cuellar Rodriguez

    I feel bad for those left unemployed, but damn business giants shouldn’t be given these photography jobs. Leave that to professional photography businesses.

  • Johno

    Saw this coming from miles away. 15 Year old kids parents buy them cameras FROM Walmart, and they’re now photographers. Who then take those photos and print them off back at Walmart…

  • Latonda

    what happens to all the cameras?

  • Silver Blue

    After last year’s Mother’s Day debacle (I went in 2 weeks before to have a photo shot to give to my Mom, and it took them until the end of June to deliver it to me), I swore I’d never go back there. In Hampton, VA Sears, they only had 2 (quite out of date) cameras (5 megapixels each) and both were broken, so they were constantly having to reschedule appointments. I’m a small-business photographer, and I was appalled by the lack of training these “professionals” had.

  • Silver Blue

    The “professionals” at Sears were paid slightly more than minimum wage, have little to no training other than being told “this is the format you have to use, and do NOT deviate from it.” I went in with ideas, had a great photo shoot for Christmas (as I stated above, I’m a small-business photographer), but later found out the photographer was fired because she accommodated me in my requests for photos that weren’t “leg up on the chair, fist under chin”. The fact that I’d brought a small (11″x9″) evergreen Rudolph to use as a prop was seen as inappropriate. Obviously props are only allowed in children’s photos.

  • Rob S

    Sad because these places did more to dive business to professionals than anything I can think of.

  • e

    so where can i get some of the liquidated euipment..

  • MarkV

    Where is all he gear being sold off at? Would love to get my hands on some of it.

  • Dave Reynolds

    CEO Jim…

  • Molly Marie

    I heard canada is still going but people think they won’t be far behind in shutting down as well : /

  • Cameron Texter

    This is a disappointment. I used to work at sears portrait studio.

  • Paul Krol

    good riddance.

  • Ed Devereaux

    Good news for clients who want artistic looks. Is it bad news for the professional photographer?

  • Michael Zhang

    Thanks for catching that, Dave. Last name has been added :)

  • Juan

    I know JC Penny is heading the same way there studios are closing here in my region

  • Brent

    When we went for family photos before I deployed back in January the Sears location in Killeen, TX was using a 10 year old Olympus DLSR with a 12 year old lens. Nobody would want that.

  • Matthew Devapiriam Emmanuel

    Awww I saved up for my first dslr working there. I learned a lot about the selling aspect of photography and yes they did have a recommended composition guide but I was always complimented for thinking out of the box.

  • Mansgame

    A lot of photographers blame these places for the downturn in their business. They will be finding out that these places had nothing to do with it and instead will have to look in the mirror.

    I for one feel that these places allowed many families who otherwise couldn’t afford a decent picture an affordable way to get ok pictures. Not everybody can afford a $200 sitting fee and $800 on some family pictures.

  • Ellen Atkin

    Finally! Great.. yeh, people are tired of that look and it means that it doesn’t matter how cheap it is. Great news for creative independent photographers…

  • Terry Thomas Photos

    The title says “Unexpectedly”. Well if those folks had defaulted on their FOURTH forbearance, how unexpected could their failure be?

    Here in Atlanta there are some Target stores with portrait studios. I wonder what will happen to them? If they handle this right, it could boost their business. Maybe not.

    Actually as a professional photographer who creates portraits for business people and the occasional child, I look upon this situation as good news. It will certainly stop price erosion in the market.

  • David J Swift

    A staggering loss. How will our nation supply the internet with “Awkward . . .” photos?

  • Zos Xavius

    When I worked at picture people they had canon 20ds! Dust bunnies were a constant issue even though we never changed lenses and cleaned the sensors constantly.

  • Zos Xavius

    Price erosion won’t stop as long as everyone can buy a dslr, do sessions for peanuts and claim to be a “photographer.”

  • Zos Xavius

    When I worked at picture people they were looking for quality and a few poses, but we were given a mostly free hand to come up with different things. Our lighting and exposures were fixed though. (1/125, f11)

  • Alex

    Walmart is not getting the customer traffic anymore because of out of stocks, poor customer service and unhappy employee’s. Plus their prices are not any better other than the bottom end basic entry level model.
    I don’t know anyone who shops Walmart anymore.

  • Antonio Carrasco

    Olan Mills is still open for business, bro

  • Antonio Carrasco

    This should give you a general idea of the climate of the photography industry… Not looking so good

  • JCB

    You must not know many people, Alex.

  • Ken Hodson

    Did you even read the article? Sears and Walmart had nothing to do with doling out these jobs. These were run and staffed by an operator called CPI Corp.

  • Shawna

    I’m so mad. I had portraits taken of my daughter for her second birthday, and now they’ve shut down! I paid for those pictures and I never even received word about any of this until they were already closed!

  • Shawna

    I know it was the only place within my budget!

  • Gordon Lamb

    First off, I’m not sad to see Sears or Walmart photo studio going away. I would never have considered them my competition, but it’s just nice to see a giant like that, turning out the low quality photography that it did, finally get swallowed up by the new, emerging industry. As a part time professional photographer, I hear it all the time about how “I can’t afford that” or “my friend at my high school can do it for $45 and will give me the CD.” The problem with that, is it’s just bad business. No photographer who is worth their salt can stay in business charging those prices. When you truly break down the cost of learning the craft, investment in quality equipment plus the upkeep, business taxes, insurance, etc…on top of making a living, $800 for a session is cheap. Unfortunately, the industry has been flooded with the “I just got a DSLR, now I’m a pro/shoot and burn for $50″ people, that the consumers believe that is the cost of doing business. It’s frustrating when people want me to shoot for very cheap or free. Telling me you’re going to promote my business, one, never works and two, doesn’t pay my bills. Not to mention that if you believe that I shouldn’t charge that much for my product, then you don’t put much value on it to begin with. You would never go into a restaurant and say, “I like your food, but it’s too much, I don’t want to pay for it. How about I just tell all my friends to come here and we’ll call it even.” People say they can’t afford good photography, but take a look around your house. I guarantee you can find things you’ve spent that much money on or more. Your 50″ TV, that cool XBOX and all the video games, that new iPhone 5, plus everyone has an iPad, don’t forget your new laptop, how about all the new clothes you bought this year. My point is, if you value something, you will pay for it. If you really value someone’s photography, then pay them what they’re worth.

  • Photo_mom

    You should be able to pick them up from the store…they are still printing and shipping portraits…

  • Former SPS manager

    The past 48 hours have been very sad. I was told via text not to go into work tomorrow. The company is closed, and you will not be paid. I have lost my earned PTO and Cobra will not be available, in which my insurance will cancel on April 5th. I am not entirely surprised… The Thursday before Easter, several other managers (and friends) lost their jobs when CPI closed 500 Picture Me Studios (Walmart). They were given 3 days to contact all of their customers for pick-ups, pack-up the cameras & computers and close the studios. I wish I had at least 1 day to contact all of my customers. I did go to the studio to place Closed signs & change the answering machine. I also informed Sears management who were not told of this. (All Sears portrait, Picture Me, Shooting Stars & Kiddie Kandid were owned by CPI and were only vendors of the host store like H&R block). I was unable to log in to the computer system to contact clients. I have no idea of whether any of the framed art will be delivered. The customers will not be refunded. I feel horrible that I am the face of corporate cowardice.

    I have been a professional photographer for 20 years. I was hired directly as a manager for Sears Portrait within the past 5 years. Due to labor costs, I worked alone (except Christmas season) in which I was the photographer, editor, enhancer, sales person, call taker, customer service, and responsible for leads & marketing. I shot over 1000 sessions last year alone.

    Sears, Walmart, Babies R Us may still receive packages from CPI prior to their closing. Possibly by April 12th. None of the customers will be contacted (due to clients info locked in cpi computers)

  • Dawn Danko

    I can’t decide if this is good news or bad news. Good news and good riddence to a big source of low cost undercutting (if only microstock agencies would follow suit). Nice to see that high volume low quality business model is not sustainable – even for a giant. On the other hand, bad news for the state of the industry as a whole – consumers truly value a million iphone photos on Facebook more than a studio portrait on their wall. That is not a good trend even for high end studios that don’t really compete with the likes of Walmart or Sears.

    On a side note – Walmart has to be one of the absolute worst offenders at printing copyrighted material. I have seen Walmart print wedding photos (obviously suspect to being copyright because of content alone), with copyright metadata, with a copyright watermark – so you go to PictureMe – pay $10 for a family portrait, buy one 4×6 for $5, scan it (I bet Walmart’s photo center would even scan it for you), and print copies for all your friends and family.

  • Bryan Phippen

    Well, technically, “Lifetouch is still open for business”, they bought Olan Mills in 2011.

  • Sean Thomas

    Fantastic idea, except you have a divergent expectation of what the market is willing to bear WRT photography. If people are happy with their $50 crappy photos, then they will pay for it. My GF regularly dropped $300 on photos at Sears because she got what she wanted. Her business was regular, so Sears saw it as worthwhile to basically rent her a room and a photographer for half a day. If you cannot survive as a photographer pulling in what my girl paid Sears, you are doing something wrong, or have unreasonable expectations of your trade.

    $800 for a session is “cheap”. Fine. If you have 4 sessions per month, you are at the median American income. One session, per week, and you are already above half of all Americans in income. My sympathy is lacking for someone who wants to complain when they can pull in $800 for a day’s (maybe) work. $100 per hour? Not unless you’re Ansel Adams.

    Americans seem to value the ability to sit down, have a couple photos taken, and get the prints. They pay what they are able and willing to. People leave a market as the price increases. Simple economics tells you what is going to happen when you try to charge the prices you seem to think you need to survive.

  • Jennifer Stutts Taylor

    Wow. So every single American owns a 50 in tv, xbox, iphone and ipad. Hmmm….all I can say is I’d love to live in your America.

  • Guest

    I buy your rant as one I make all the time, about paying the local kid $45 and she burns a CD of all the images. The wedding guys I know been ranting about this for years.

    BUT, Wal*Mart and Sears are using CPI to cater to a demographic that would NEVER be able to afford high end prices, or any other professional portrait studio. The average Wal*Mart shopper’s family household income is roughly $40,000 and below according to the Wall Street Journal.

    Most of customers don’t care about whether the pictures are taken with a ten year old Nikon D1x, an Olympus PEN, and iPhone or a Hassy H3. Most customer also couldn’t tell the images apart, nor do they care from which camera those images came from.

    Add in high unemployment rates, a crappy economy, and people ho really, quite frankly could give a sh!t less about anything other than a halfway acceptable final product, the only ones I can see really eating it are going to continue to be the the self-employed portraiture and wedding photographers. If a big outfit like CPI can fail, it just goes to continue to show what the consumer camera-printer market is doing to the rest of us.

  • Phil Brown

    A few comments as a layperson with an informed interest in this business:

    1. Not everyone can afford bona fide professional services. As with cars, dining, computers, vision care, and every other product or service, there is a market for lower-priced options. Always will be. Imagine a world in which the only computers cost $2,000. Or a meal out cost $30. Because those are the best computers and meals. Doesn’t work that way.

    2. I don’t celebrate anyone’s loss of income in this Obama economy. It’s tragic. These people are in a bad fix.

    3. Reading the article, it is not clear whether a market collapse in the low-cost portrait industry was at fault, or whether it was Craigslist, or just bad business practices. The article only indicates the latter.

    4. Which means that there is an opening for a better-run company to enter the market. That’s capitalism.

    5. People who cannot afford independent professionals’ fees will seek and find a lower-cost alternative. Yes, they will be satisfied with the illusion of having quality portraits at a low cost. For some, the illusion is in going to a department-store “studio.” For others, it will be finding a “pro” on CL. But in either event, they will think they got a deal that is better than Uncle Joe with a pocket camera.

    6. Don’t pretend that the demand for cheap will go away. It won’t. Criticizing it won’t do any good, any more than organic-food advocates will make the average imported tomatoes go away.

    So the question, pros, is: What are you going to do about it?

  • Steven Crayne

    Actually, with today’s cameras and the ability to fire off 100’s of pictures even a monkey will get lucky a snap a professional level picture. OK, maybe it won’t be Ansel Adams but the the personal satisfaction of taking a great shot yourself and saving $100’s of dollars more than make up for it. That’s the reason these places can’t make money and are out of business/

  • Marfa

    I feel bad for all the people that are losing their jobs. That is terrible. On the other hand, I understand the frustration of professional photographers when people think that photography factories like that can offer the same quality that you get when you go to a privately owned studio. There is a reason why those places had to shut down. Not enough people are going anymore! If you want cheap photos you can take them yourself.

  • Gordon Lamb

    Here you go, asking the pros to lower their prices until it is impossible to stay in business. If your expenses (Cost of Sale) are more than 35% of your product price, you will be going out of business. There is a cost to doing business, that is a fact and if you want to stay in business, you have to charge a price that is fair. Will the $50 shoot and burn people go away? Probably not, but they will not stay in business long. Most of them figure out within 3 years that the business model they have created is a sinking ship.

  • Angry Consumer

    So all i wanna know is who is going to file a lawsuit? These people took money from me in order to book a session only when I went in for my appointment they were closed. Someone needs to pay back the people who paid out their hard earned money for pictures and to reserve a time and yet did not get anything in return!

  • Angry Consumer

    FYI these portraits are not cheap. Just because the sitting fee was nonexistent did not mean you didn’t have to shell out a ton of money in order to actually own the pictures.

  • MNP

    I worked at the Sears studios and you dont have to pay to book an appointment. Soooooo . . .

  • Stan Bowery

    You know a 50 year old camera can still take an amazing photo, right?

  • Brandi L

    Sean Thomas, if a photographer charges $800 dollars for a session, all $800 of that is not pure profit. We have to buy a laptop, a camera (mine cost over $3000), light equipment, multiple lenses for various situations (many GOOD lenses cost upwards of $1000 dollars or more), editing software (the photoshop suite is incredibly expensive), gas to get to and from sessions, not mention props, backdrops and rent if a photographer operates his own studio. This doesn’t include the debt many of us racked up by going to photography school (I am over $50,000 in debt from college).

    Also, while it is true that a photo session may only last 1-3 hours, most photographers certainly invest more than a day’s work into them. It usually takes me about a week to edit any entire session. I then meet with my client to do an ordering session which lasts about an hour. Then, I must order the prints and package them once they arrive from the lab (oh hey, there’s ANOTHER expense).

    Now, I don’t charge anywhere near a $200 session fee or $800 dollars for prints. In fact, many of my packages are less expensive than the packages at Sears Portrait Studio were. I know this because I worked for SPS for 5 years and developed my pricing to compete with their’s. However, because of my competitive pricing, my business does not even break even and I must still work a full-time job at a doctor’s office in order to survive. This is why professional photographers must charge so much. The only way I could survive on my photography business alone, plus pay back my student loans and keep my equipment updated would be to DRASTICALLY increase my prices.

  • Phil Brown

    I didn’t ask anybody to lower prices. I asked the pro photo industry what they plan to do to counter this and stop whining about it. You can complain all you want, but eventually you have to either 1) acknowledge that the Sears customers weren’t your customers in the first place so you never lost a penny to Sears; or 2) acknowledge that the Sears customers are indeed your potential customers and figure out how to win their business.

    These closings leave a huge vacuum in the lower-tier market. What are you going to do to win it? Or are you going to let someone better than the previous firm come in and do a better job at volume photography, using all-up-to-date technology and marketing, and continue to cut you out of this pie?

    I wish that pro photographers would realize that this happens to all businesses. You adapt or you die. I lost a long career in newspaper in large part because of Craigslist and online news aggregators who take but don’t give. So I know the feeling. Believe me, I didn’t want to see my own industry start to go down the tubes when the Internet came along.

    But whining does nothing. Do something.