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.