Going-out-of-business sales start today at 38 Ritz Camera Centers Inc. stores in California, part of the retailer's plan to shut 300 stores nationwide in a last-ditch bid to keep the company afloat.
Like many in the retail business, Beltsville, Md.-based Ritz has been slammed by the sharp slowdown in consumer spending. Among the companies that have scaled back or been wiped from the retail landscape recently are Circuit City, Mervyn's, Linens N Things and KB Toys.
But some of the company's customers on Friday said Ritz also had fallen prey to the digital do-it-yourself age of photography in which fewer people need expert help and virtually anyone with a camera and a computer can process their own photographs and edit their own work.
"It's just so disappointing that everything went digital. It's just taken over. Now it's all computerized," said Cheryl Corte, a Pasadena retiree who still uses the Minolta XG-M she said she bought at the Monterey Jazz Festival in 1979.
Corte had gone to the Ritz at the Foothill Rosemead Marketplace in Pasadena to buy a lens cap. The store is one of 27 locations slated for shutdown in Southern California. Only five stores in the Southland are expected to remain open.
At the Pasadena Ritz, there was no hint of what is to come -- no liquidation signs, no posters promising discounts. Few customers seemed to know that the store would be closing.
"I'm disappointed," said Charles Pickens, 60, a former banker so new to retirement that he said it still felt more like a vacation.
"The service has been good. The quality has been good and it's convenient for me," said Pickens, who was there to pick up some prints.
John Morris, another customer, complained of dwindling options because, he said, all of the one-hour photo locations near him already had closed. He had just started using the Pasadena Ritz as an alternative.
"Everyone like my son just does this at home now, but I don't. I'll have to find someplace else again," Morris said.
About 400 Ritz stores nationwide will remain open, including the Newport Fashion Island location in Newport Beach and the Magnolia Avenue location in Riverside.
A joint venture comprised of Great American Group, SB Capital Group, Tiger Capital Group and Hudson Capital Partners will be conducting the sales.
Scott Carpenter, executive vice president for Great American of Woodland Hills, said the discounts would begin at 10% to 20% off, depending on the category of merchandise.
"Then we will progress to 20% off, 30% off all the way to 90% off. We think it will take about seven to nine weeks," Carpenter said. The group said that about $50 million in merchandise would be liquidated.
Pasadena customer Sue Youngson said it would be difficult to participate in such a sale.
"This is terrible. It's a great, great little store," said Youngson, who had been wondering how long she had to take advantage of an upgrade for the telescope she had bought at the store for her husband. She might find a bargain, but she wasn't happy about it.
"I just can't believe it," she said.