Portrait studios at Sears and some Wal-Mart stores — the scenes of innumerable family photos — have unexpectedly closed as their operator, CPI Corp., goes out of business.
The portrait provider said in a statement on its website that all of its U.S. locations have shut down "after many years of providing family portrait photography."
The St. Louis company has been making photo keepsakes for more than 60 years and offered its services at more than 3,000 North American locations, mostly in Sears and Wal-Mart stores.
For generations, families would gather in their best matched outfits or prop infants in precarious poses to create relatively inexpensive heirlooms in the convenience of their neighborhood retailer. The sometimes cheesy backdrops and stiff poses have become a visual reference point, ripe for reverence and ridicule.
CPI has suffered in recent years amid the popularity of digital cameras and smartphones that allow easy photo-taking — the same trend that sent Eastman Kodak into bankruptcy.
"The whole digital world has changed everything so much," said Chris Gampat, editor in chief of photography blog the Phoblogapher. "People are very happy taking pictures of themselves with their iPhones and putting them on Instagram and sharing them instantly on Facebook and Twitter."
Gampat, 26, also said that more consumers are buying the digital single-lens reflex, or DSLR, cameras once used nearly exclusively by professional photographers for top-quality images.
CPI, unable to pay back creditors, has been warning of a possible liquidation for some time.
The company brought in a new chief executive last year; sales in its third quarter, which ended Nov. 10, slumped 26% to $69.5 million. Its net loss deepened to $20.2 million, or $2.81 a share, from a loss of $7.3 million, or $1.03 a share, during the same quarter a year earlier.
In its statement, CPI said that it is "attempting to fulfill as many customer orders as possible" and that images from recent sessions may be available at local studios.
Sears Holdings Corp. said it was notified of the closures Thursday and is "working with CPI to ensure that it fulfills its outstanding orders." The retailer said it is "exploring all options to potentially provide these services as soon as possible."
Similarly, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. said it was working to ensure that customers received ordered photos. Less than 20% of Wal-Mart stores were affected by CPI's closure, the company said. A note on CPI's website for PictureMe, as the Wal-Mart studios were called, said photos could be picked up at local stores or ordered online through April 18.
Customers looking to have themselves professionally preserved on film may have to go to Kmart stores, where photos are taken by Olan Mills Portrait Studios.
At Awkward Family Photos, a popular website chronicling ill-advised portraits and photographs, the mood was somber.
"Obviously, we're sad to hear the news, as many decades of gloriously awkward photos came to us as a result of these family portrait studios," site managers said in a statement. "While these studios might no longer exist, we are confident that the nostalgia for these studio photos will endure."