The Loss of a Great Specialty Camera Dealer

Earlier this week, photographers in the Baltimore & D.C. area lost a great resource, as Penn camera filed for bankruptcy & immediately closed 5 of their 8 stores.  I was personally very surprised & sorry to hear the news.  I don’t think that it’s my place to speculate on the circumstances surrounding this situation – it’s really none of my business. But since so many people have said things to me like “you must be happy – you’re the only game in town”, and since this development will definitely have an effect on our business, I feel compelled to make a statement – so here it is:

First and foremost, my thoughts are with the Zweig family who own Penn camera because this situation must be extremely difficult for them in ways that I can only imagine.  They are good people, as are the Penn staff, and the business that they have grown over the last 50+ years has been a major force in our industry.  Penn camera has been a valued supplier to many photographers, businesses, & government agencies, and they will be sorely missed.

When a specialty photo dealer leaves the marketplace, it is bad for the industry and bad for the local photography community.  Sure, we’ll pick up a little business from photographers who prefer working with a local specialty camera dealer.  However, the majority of Penn’s customer base will now undoubtedly find their products on the web from sources that offer little or no support, instruction, & guidance to their customers.  This constantly growing shift in consumer buying is troublesome, because camera & photography gear is not usually simple & self-explanatory.  To get the most out of their equipment, photographers need to buy the right products for their needs – which is often a decision that cannot be made without assistance. And, they need to know how to use the items properly.  These services can only be provided by a local specialty dealer that provides one-on-one “hands on” consultation with its customers.   Penn Camera was a full service dealer that helped many photographers, for many years, and the loss of their services is a loss to the entire photographic community.

Chapter 11 bankruptcy allows a company to reorganize, and that’s exactly what I hope that Penn Camera will do.  A specialty camera dealer needs to be “lean & mean”, so that it can compete in a photo industry that is dominated by giants, while still offering a high level of customer service.  It’s not easy, but it is possible.  Hopefully, Penn Camera will continue to operate the three remaining stores in the DC area for many years to come.  I wish them the best of luck in whatever decisions they make for the future.  And hopefully, they realize that friendly competitors like Service Photo will always be happy to work together with them or offer assistance if it is needed.  Specialty camera dealers are all a little different, with unique personalities and mixes of products & services.  When we all work together in these difficult times, both photographers and dealers will benefit – which will create deeper bonds & better relationships that I hope will keep this industry healthy for a long time.

Service Photo welcomes all Penn Camera customers in the Baltimore area, and we hope to work with them in the future.  We also hope that Penn Camera continues to operate their stores in the DC area for many years to come – along with our other DC area friends at Photo Craft & Ace Photo.  A healthy specialty camera dealer network in this region gives photographers a choice – and that’s what we all need to stay healthy.

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9 Responses to The Loss of a Great Specialty Camera Dealer

  1. Well said Burke…well said.

  2. Hendric says:

    That´s what I call a fair statement. Well said. We also prefer to support local stores.

  3. Maria says:

    Robert, in the Pikesville store, was instrumental in my getting into more serious photography. He offered advice on equipment, as well as specific instruction on the same. He offered excellent support, and never tried to sell me something I’d never use, or wasn’t yet ready for. I will miss his friendly personality and friendship as well. The other staff at Penn were very helpful as well, but Robert was my “main man”. I will sorely miss them. I wish all their staff the best.

  4. Joshua Cohen says:

    I run an analog focused internet business and am opening a retail store to focus on film (yes, film. It is a booming niche market). Business is business but I do not welcome the closing of other stores.

    As we all know, the market is getting concentrated into a few major internet dealers (and one in particular). They offer low prices and great selection but not much in the way of customer experience. That is what the market wants and so be it but don’t complain when you have nowhere local to try before you buy and nobody to talk to.

    I am a niche player, so this does not affect me much, but folks, if you want local stores where you can see gear and talk to folks you should be willing to pay a little more, not drastically more but a little.

    • Kirsten says:

      Hello Joshua! I am intrigued! Where will you be opening your retail store? I am in Baltimore in the Hamilton/Lauraville area and would be so THRILLED if there was a place close by where I could quickly pick up a roll of Efke IR 120.

  5. Peter says:

    Penn remodeled and I was overjoyed to walk into the store after so many years being out of photography and feel like I was walking into Towson Photo Supply annex! These were so much more than boutique photo shops, they were full service with experienced and professional staff who were more than exhuberant about providing the level of support we all need from time to time. It was like a time warp back to the 70’s and I for one will miss it and like Mr. Seim, hope they will emerge lean mean and ready to play.

  6. Frank says:

    Burke, Your little essay about the demise of Penn Camera was a thoughtful, sensitive statement that tells your customers, old and new what Service Photo is all about. While a student at Loyola College in the 1950’s, I worked at Zepp Photo after class. The good business relationship between Zepp and Service across the street was exceptional. Many times Zepp staff would run across Greenmount Avenue to borrow a stock item that they needed. Your grandfather had good reason not to be so cooperative, but that was not his philosophy. And, I am happy that you have carried on the tradition.

  7. teresa egbert says:

    I am sorry to hear about Penn Camera. Burke, that was a terrific statement you posted. I do hope things can turn around for the family and be able to give the support they have for so many years.

  8. Wendy Rundel says:

    Yesterday I drove over to the PIkesville area specifically to go to the Penn store, only to find it closed. Previously I had dropped in to ask questions about several cameras I was interested in learning about but twice, not one person was available at the time. Today I did a search to find a camera store in the Baltimore area and found your site and blog. Your article about Penn Camera was a very sensitive, thoughtful essay. I only wish I had had the chance to have a positive experience with them. I am hoping to come to visit your store to learn more about my one camera and consider purchasing another.

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