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Wolf Camera seeks Chapter 11 protection

ATLANTA — Wolf Camera Inc., the nation's second-largest photo retailer, has filed for bankruptcy protection, but the company doesn't plan to close up shop. Instead, Wolf Camera says it will concentrate on rebuilding the company and refocusing its efforts on core markets. “We're going to be a strong specialty retailer for a long time to come. That's the strategy,” said Stephen LaMastra, executive vice president for corporate strategy and general counsel of Wolf Camera.

In June, the Atlanta-based retailer filed a petition for reorganization under Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of Georgia. The privately held company has arranged post-petition financing from its existing bank syndicate. As of press time, all stores remain open while the company begins work on its reorganization plan.

Wolf Camera opened in 1974 and has more than 500 stores in 20-plus states and more than 5,000 employees. Founder and CEO Chuck Wolf admitted the cause of the company's financial woes was its 1998 acquisition of Fox Photo, which added 450 stores to the company's portfolio. “The Fox Photo acquisition was a mistake, and I take full responsibility for the decision and for moving our company forward starting today,” he stated on June 21, the date the company filed the petition for bankruptcy. “We believe the Chapter 11 process will provide us with the best opportunity to implement our strategic reorganization plan and return the business to profitability.”

As part of the reorganization, the company plans to close an as yet undetermined number of under-performing stores across the country. LaMastra said the typical store averages 2,100 sq. ft. to 2,200 sq. ft. Approximately 60 to 80 Wolf Camera stores, or roughly 15% of its portfolio, are located in regional malls. The company also operates a number of freestanding stores, which average between 2,500 sq. ft. and 6,000 sq. ft. The majority of the store properties are leased. “We own very little real estate,” LaMastra said.

Within the next few months, the company will determine which under-performing stores to close. “We're going to look at all of our stores and evaluate them, and decide which stores have real strategic, long-term value,” LaMastra said.

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