Ritz Camera Chronicles, Stories From America's Biggest Camera Store

Fstoppers wouldn't exist without Ritz Camera. Patrick and I met each other working there 13 years ago. But, as many of you know, Ritz Camera went bankrupt, and we know why. 

In this series, Patrick and I tell hilarious stories from our past life as Ritz Camera sales associates and print technicians. In many ways, working at Ritz camera was like the TV show The Office; everyone in a position of power seemed wildly incompetent, and the decisions they made led to the downfall of the company. 

I'm not going to summarize this entire video but there are a few details I would like to add. Firstly, I probably come off as an absolutely horrible employee but I did take my job seriously. I was never late, I never called in sick, and I always went above and beyond to help customers. That being said, when we were asked to do jobs that were obviously pointless, I wasn't the first to volunteer. In my initial story about moving the outdated Playstation 1 games into the front showcase, I failed to mention that the next month our district manager made us move everything back because obviously, it was a horrible decision. If we had left the games exactly where they were, our district manager wouldn't have remembered when he returned the next month, and we would have saved ourselves hours of time and annoyance. During the years that I worked at Ritz, I never once saw a single Playstation game sold, even while they were being presented in our front showcase.

When our printer finally broke, and our manager decided to spend her own money to transfer negatives and prints to and from another store in town, I failed to mention even the customers didn't appreciate her effort. Film was getting lost, prints were never ready in time (remember we had a 1-hour print policy), and if a print turned out poorly, we didn't have a printer in the store to easily fix the issue. Our district manager told our manager not to do it, our customers were not happy with this service, and our manager endlessly complained about the time and money it took to do it, but she continued. When orders weren't ready on time customers would routinely say "Why didn't you just tell me to go to the other store."

The demise of Ritz became apparent when our district and store managers began telling us to "cook the books" by ringing up prints as other items in the store that paid higher commission rates. By doing this it may have appeared that we had tons of new customers signing up for Ritz Pix memberships, but in reality, nobody was. 

This is the first episode of Ritz Camera Chronicles. We have at least 4 more storytelling episodes left in our series. Make sure you subscribe to our Youtube Channel to catch the next episode tomorrow. 

For this video we recorded audio with the Rode Broadcaster mics piped into the Rodecaster Pro. Obviously, we need some pop filters, but I was really impressed with the sound quality out of this system. If you're looking to film a podcast style show, this is by far the easiest setup I have ever seen. 

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Grant Schwingle's picture

This is great. I worked at one in Downtown Chicago and it was very much in the same vein as this.

The entire almost year I worked there in college we had a new but very old Canon 30D on sale for NO discount off of MSRP. Why you ask would anyone be interested in a model of camera that was 2-3 years old at that point for full price? They were not - so it remained and collected dust - I made it my mission to sell this camera for the $5 commission I would get off the sale. Well, one day a gentleman came into the store and was interested in purchasing said camera. I showed him the box and the camera and talked about all the features of the camera and what the customer would be using it for. I let him check out the box and put the camera on the shelf underneath the counter while I dealt with some stuff in the lab and rung up another customer I was helping. After the dust settles I realize that the 30D box was missing. Chalking it up to being distracted and the store being a mess I didn't think anything of it. Well, in walks the dude that was asking about the 30D and he has the box with him.... He asks about the camera again and we go a little deeper into the features and I give him the camera to hold and test out now that the store is a little slower. No sooner do I turn around to grab something from the display and then back to the customer to realize he has a bottle of MACE and is trying to PEPPER SPRAY me! I quickly duck under the counter, the thief runs out of the store with the 30D and I realize that he either missed or the bottle misfired. I hop over the counter and chase the dude down Wabash. As we get to the corner of Wabash and Jackson he runs directly into a woman on the street and falls over. At this point confronted with whether to try to take the camera back, detain this guy or go about my life, I choose the latter option realizing that maybe, just maybe Ritz camera is not worth all of this.... I find a new job next month....

lol dude what the hell kind of story is this! I guess Ritz camera brings out the worst and best in everyone.

Grant Schwingle's picture

a Ritz camera kinda story of course lol!

Dan Hilden's picture

Good stuff! I worked for a smaller chain of camera stores around the same era. It was a weird time in the industry, and managers were desperately trying to keep the numbers up when they were suddenly competing with online stores while selling products that they no longer fully understood (digital cameras!). I remember getting chewed out for saying that I would no longer sell a particular battery charger after one started on fire in someone's house. Ultimately I was let go because I accepted a counterfeit check for a camera, and then at the recommendation of my coworkers filed an L&I complaint after the company deducted the cost of the camera from my next paycheck. They said that I should have been able to spot the counterfeit check, but I was 17 and didn't even have a checkbook. I did get an interesting look at people's inner lives while developing photos though; I don't think many people knew that we looked at every shot as we did color corrections.

Richard Twigg's picture

I worked at the flasgship Ritz in Beltsville, MD for a while in the late '90s. Ed Ritz and his son David were there all the time. They treated us well, I had a generally good experience working there, but moved on fairy quickly.

The shadow your mic casts on your shirt makes it look like you spit up all over yourself, Lee. It took me a second to realize what it was. I'm loving these stories!

Leigh Miller's picture

Sorry I kinda find this series cringe inducing.

I've worked for companies that I didn't think were particularly well run and with questionable practices...I just quit and moved on. This is kinda like whistle-blowing but after the fact. Kinda surprised...

If Ritz was still a thing, we wouldn't make this video because we don't want to cause any person or business harm. These are just funny stories to us, nothing more.

I worked in camera sales from about 1968 to 1970 (anyone here from the mid Atlantic states remember Two Guys and Korvettes?). Many of us were actually sincere hobbyists, but the management lunacy was not unlike the video above.

Managers generally lasted less time than employees.One of the employees actually did shoot occasional weddings, one was a member of a rich watch manufacturing family who seemed to be placed there to keep out of trouble (probably the only minimum-wage employee who arrived driving a late model Mercedes). One manager was a middle aged divorcee, while not unattractive, seemed concerned about losing her 'edge'. We had a stockroom with a second level with a grated floor and she would announce to the staff (guys): I'm going upstairs, don't look up my skirt.

Strange trip it was.

Benoit Pigeon's picture

I worked for a couple years for a small local chain that later was sold to Ritz. I left just before the ownership transfer. Anyway, I had become the lab manager without the pay because the manager was literally clueless. One Saturday morning I noticed the quality was dropping very quickly from our high tech Agfa RA4 printer. Luckily I knew our stock and I went to check how many developer container we had in storage. Sure enough, someone mixed C41 instead of RA4...

Ryan Davis's picture

I worked for in the chemical industry for over a decade. The specifics of the incompetence were different, but the levels of dumb were just as intense.

I'm pretty sure that most companies that succeed don't do so because they are well run, but because the competition is even worse.

Even better (You may already know)- Many of the snapper heads that ran Ritz into the ground then went on to Calumet and did the same.

Ryan Davis's picture

Nothing succeeds like failure.

This was the same story of Rahola Photo Supply in Puerto Rico where I worked. Bad administration and a lot of mediocre people doing bad desitions.

I just finished watching this video. In June 2011, I went on a scavenger hunt in Columbia, SC looking for Kodak Ektar 100 film; since the purpose was to photograph the final Space Shuttle launch, I didn't want Kodak's consumer grade film.
I remember that Ritz/Wolf had a nice store on an out parcel of a vibrant shopping mall; but when I went to the store, it was an empty shell. There was another Ritz store in Columbia near a dying mall. That Ritz store looked like it was a former convenience store. It was open, but all it had was camera bags, tripods, and lens filters. I scanned around the store and didn't see any film. Nobody in the store offered help.
I walked out.