Portrait studio closes

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David Minton/DRC
Kelly Pugh is shown in her home Tuesday afternoon. Pugh worked at the Sears Portrait Studio in Golden Triangle Mall for the last 15 years until she arrived at work last Thursday, the day that CPI Corp, who operated the Sears and Wal-Mart portrait studios, abruptly closed all their locations nationwide.

When Kelly Pugh got to work at the Sears Portrait Studio inside the Golden Triangle Mall at 10 a.m. Thursday, she had a message waiting on her work computer.

“Do not clock in, your studio is closed,” she read.

The Sears Portrait Studio, managed by St. Louis-based CPI Corp., announced last week it was shutting down all its U.S. operations.

“They closed their doors out of nowhere,” Pugh said. “It really saddened me, because I have worked there for a very long time. I did not get a a chance to say goodbye to my customers and to thank them for their loyalty and their friendship.”

Pugh — who worked for CPI Corp. for 17 years — and three other employees lost their jobs.

CPI Corp. offered photography services at more than 2,700 locations nationwide, primarily in Sears, Walmart and Toys R Us stores, according to its website.

On Thursday, Pugh saw only one customer and then left her studio with her belongings.

“I could not get into the computer system to run any list to contact my customers,” she said. “I was not able to talk to anyone from the company.”

In a letter to employees sent April 3, Jim Abel, president and chief executive officer, said CPI Corp. was battling through a decline in business.

“During that time, we negotiated deals without hosts, secured additional funding from our banks, and marketed our company to potential purchasers,” Abel said in his letter.

“Unfortunately, all of those efforts have fallen short.”

In its third-quarter filing ending Nov. 10, the company reported a net loss of $20.2 million. Net sales from the Sears Portrait Studio decreased by 21 percent in the third quarter of 2012 to $29.1 million, the company said. CPI Corp.’s other studio operations — Kiddie Kandis and PictureMe — also reported losses, according to its filing.

The company also has stores in Canada that did not suffer from a decline in business, the company said in the letter. Those stores will continue to operate as standalone businesses until they are sold.

Matt Ludemann, manager at the Golden Triangle Mall, said he received a call Thursday from Sheila Killebrew, manager of the Denton Sears store, to inform him of the closing.

“They are still there; they just closed down,” he said of the studio.

Ludemann said customers of the portrait studio could get in touch with Sears to follow up on their orders.

Killebrew could not be reached for comment.

CPI Corp. will continue to fulfill as many customers’ orders as possible, according to its website.

Pugh said she will miss seeing her loyal customers, especially for special occasions.

“During the holiday season, we would get really busy,” she said. “It was fun for me, it was more than a job.”

Pugh said she would see close to 35 customers each week.

Pugh, 49, said she will begin looking for another job.

“I love children, and I love taking photos,” she said. “I have faith that things will get better.”

KARINA RAMÍREZ can be reached at 940-566-6878 and via Twitter at @KarinaFRamirez.


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