CPI abruptly closes portrait studios in U.S.
By Staff and Wire Reports
Published: Saturday, April 6, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
A financially struggling operator of more than 2,000 portrait studios in locations such as Wal-Mart and Sears stores has abruptly shuttered those outlets, leaving some laid-off workers scrambling — without pay — to make good on customers' orders.
St. Louis-based CPI Corp., called Thursday's announcement “sad” in a two-paragraph statement on its website, insisted it was trying to fulfill as many orders as possible and urged customers with questions to contact their local store.
It was not immediately clear how many employees were affected. CPI's website as of Friday was purged of everything but the statement. Calls to the company, in business for more than 60 years, were not answered on Friday.
Two Sears Portrait Studios operated by CPI in the Pittsburgh region — at South Hills Village and Ross Park Mall — have been closed, according to a recorded message when their telephone number was called. The message advised customers owed photos taken by the studio that they could be obtained by visiting the store and through Sears personnel.
Six of the 10 Wal-Marts in the Pittsburgh region once had a CPI portrait studio. But according to store officials at each one, four of the studios closed down in the last couple of months, and two of them (Cranberry Township and Gibsonia) closed about a year ago.
As the popularity of digital photography cut into its sales, CPI revealed last month in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing that it had received a fourth forbearance agreement from its lenders and it had until Saturday to meet its loan obligations. CPI said in mid-March that it owed $98.5 million, including unpaid principal of $76.1 million.
CPI had warned in earlier SEC filings that failing to buy more time from lenders could force it to liquidate, and the company last year hired an investment bank to explore a possible selloff. Last month, CPI's chief marketing officer and executive vice president resigned after a seven-year tenure.
Sears Holding Corp. wrote in an emailed statement on Friday that it was working with CPI “to ensure that it fulfills its outstanding orders and provides ordered pictures to our members and customers.” CPI managed and operated Sears Portrait Studios as a licensed business, Sears said.
“We are currently exploring all options to potentially provide these services to our members and customers as soon as possible,” Sears said, expressing regret about any inconvenience.
But some suddenly displaced CPI employees, believing the company could wrongly foist the responsibility of filling outstanding customers' orders onto Wal-Mart and Sears, were hustling on Friday, trying to make good with the clients while absorbing the shock of losing their jobs and related benefits, including insurance coverage.
“There's almost no word to describe this. It's devastating,” said Jennifer McDowell, a three-year CPI employee who until Thursday managed a four-employee studio in a Wal-Mart in St. Charles, a St. Louis suburb. “We gave so much for this company and worked so hard.”
McDowell, 34, hastily copied as many undelivered portrait packages as she could onto compact discs on Thursday. By Friday, she tried to spread the word to those customers that she would be in a nearby pet store's parking lot on Saturday with those CDs.
“There's a chance (CPI) was not going to make good on their promises to customers, and if they don't, they make us look like liars,” said McDowell, of Alton, Ill. “Leaving the clients in the lurch is not right. ... We're trying to do our best to take care of our customers even now. That's where our loyalty lies.”
The Associated Press and Trib Total Media staff writers Thomas Olson and Sam Spatter contributed to this report.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- PNC plans to do away with tellers
- Consol acquires drilling rights from Dominion
- Pace of enrollments on Healthcare.gov more than double, government says
- Born in Pittsburgh, US Airways departure is a bittersweet one
- Barra breaks GM glass ceiling
- Poll: Women’s pay up, but so is negativity
- Nestle cuts ties with farm over dairy cow abuse
- Wholesale stockpiles up 1.4% in October
- Education Management Corp. suit settled for $3.4 million
- Fab Universal disputes kiosk claims; will restate earnings
- Stocks decline on heels of record close