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Camera Giant's Focus Falters

Beltsville-based Ritz Camera, the largest U.S. photography retailer, plans to restructure under bankruptcy protection.
Beltsville-based Ritz Camera, the largest U.S. photography retailer, plans to restructure under bankruptcy protection. (By Justin Sullivan -- Getty Images)
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The company appointed Marc C. Weinsweig from FTI Consulting as its chief restructuring officer. Weinsweig did not return several phone messages yesterday seeking comment.

The camera company began when Benjamin Ritz opened a portrait studio on the Atlantic City boardwalk in 1918. The business expanded in 1938, when Ritz's younger brother, Edward, established a photo processing lab at 11th and G streets NW in the District. The following year, the brothers set up shop in Baltimore and began selling cameras.

Ritz Camera expanded under Edward's son, David, who joined in 1969 and now serves as chief executive. In 1976, the company purchased Fotomat, doubling its store numbers to 100. In 1997, it bought 130 stores from Seattle-based Kits Camera, then the nation's third-largest retail camera chain. Ten years ago, the company added another 73 locations when it purchased the Philadelphia-based Camera Shop.

In 2001, the company acquired Wolf Camera from Charles R. "Chuck" Wolf, Edward Ritz's nephew, in a bankruptcy sale.

In the late 1980s, David Ritz, a boating enthusiast, opted to diversify by establishing Boater's World.

Boater's World sales plummeted when the price of gas rose last year, according to the filing.

"People aren't putting money into the boating industry," Millman said. "It's more important for them to feed their families and pay their mortgages."

Industry-wide, power boat sales dropped an estimated 28 percent in 2008, said Ellen Hopkins, spokeswoman for the National Marine Manufacturers Association.

Boater's World is not a powerboat retailer, but sells fishing gear, paddleboats, inflatable boats and powerboat accessories, such as deck chairs and navigational gear.

"If people aren't buying boats, Boater's World won't have customers coming in to buy their products," said Phil Keeter, president of the Marine Retailers Association.

The bankruptcy filing said Ritz in October 2007 received $200 million in a revolving credit facility from Wachovia Bank and other lenders. The document said Ritz owes them $47.7 million in revolving credit and $6.8 million in credit obligations.

Staff researcher Meg Smith contributed to this report.

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