The Calumet Photographic chain of camera stores in the US closed without notice last week leaving around 200 staff members unpaid; suppliers with goods still on shelves and invoices unpaid; and customers with deposits and gear in for repair unretrievable.
Calumet has filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy – seeking immediate liquidation.
The website, Facebook and Twitter accounts have been taken down, leaving no one for out-of-pocket employees and customers – among whom are a significant number of professional photographers – to communicate with. (The Illinois-based chain’s motto was ‘It’s where the pros go’.)
Nonetheless Calumet stores in the UK, Netherlands, Belgium and Germany continue to trade. Both the ruthless style of the closure, with no notice to staff or customers, and the continued trading of other entities within the group, are reminiscent of the shuttering of PixiFoto in Australia and NZ last year.
PixiFoto continues to trade in the UK under the same management that closed the Australian and New Zealand operations.
It also mimics the strategy used by CPI Corp in the US last year, which left over 3000 employees suddenly without jobs or entitlements when it closed the doors of its Picture Me, Sear and WalMart portrait studios in the US. (The Canadian business still operates as CPI Canadian Images in Walmart Canada stores.)
According to its bankruptcy filing, Calumet Photographics US has assets ranging from US$50 million to US$100 million and liabilities in the US$10 million to US$50 million range, as reported by AP.
An interview with a now out-of-work employee on the in PetaPixel website gives some insight into the final months of Calumet:
‘…Unofficially we had been expecting something like this for months. Twice Calumet had not been able to pay their employees. The last paychecks that were due to hit employee bank accounts last Friday never showed up. No updates were given until around 4:45 when the company promised ‘live checks’ the next day. The problem was blamed on the service we use to punch in and out with.
‘We had been having trouble getting equipment in stock for a long time. The first obvious things were products like Nikon cameras and lenses. Whenever we asked why there was a problem managers would blame Nikon or whatever the supplying company was.
‘Eventually the problem spread to Epson, Sony, Fuji and various others. It’s hard to say how many vendors we were on credit hold with but most likely all of them. Most recently, Canon was the only supplier we were receiving stock from. Finally, once UPS would no longer pick up shipments from the company, things seemed obvious.
‘In March 2013 the company bought a few Penn and Ritz Camera stores in the DC/Baltimore area. This spread out the company in a positive way. Having more locations is a great thing. That being said, customers expect these locations to have stock. The upper management never seemed to understand this. Corporate expected sales to be made by special order. Customers will tell you the real benefit of a brick and mortar is that you can get you hands on products before spending significant amounts of money on them.’
Calumet Photo was founded in 1939 as a manufacturer of sporting goods. It gradually moved over to photographics, first manufacturing developing trays and darkroom equipment, then view cameras when in 1955 it acquired the rights to the Kodak Matser View 4×5 camera. It wasn’t until 1980 that it became a full-line supplier of professional photographic products and produced what the UK website claims was the first photo supply catalogue. (Kodak and others might may argue that point.)