CPI closes its U.S. studios

A financially struggling operator of more than 2,000 U.S. portrait studios in locations such as Wal-Mart and Sears stores has abruptly shuttered those outlets, leaving some laid-off workers scrambling — without pay — to make good on customers’ orders.

St. Louis-based CPI Corp. called Thursday’s announcement “sad” in a two-paragraph statement on its website, insisted it was trying to fulfill as many orders as possible and urged customers with questions to contact their local store.

It was not immediately clear how many employees were affected. CPI’s website as of Friday was purged of everything but the statement. Calls to the company, in business for more than 60 years, were not answered Friday.

As the popularity of digital photography cut into its sales, CPI revealed last month in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing it had received a fourth forbearance agreement from its lenders and that it had until Saturday to meet its loan obligations.

CPI said in mid-March that it owed $98.5 million, including unpaid principal of $76.1 million.

CPI had warned in earlier SEC filings that failing to buy more time from lenders could force it to liquidate.

The company last year hired an investment bank to explore a possible selloff. Last month, CPI’s chief marketing officer and executive vice president resigned after a seven-year tenure.

Sears Holding Corp. said in an emailed statement Friday that it was working with CPI “to ensure that it fulfills its outstanding orders and provides ordered pictures to our members and customers.” CPI managed and operated Sears Portrait Studios as a licensed business, Sears said.