Ritz Camera president, group buys chain in auction

WILMINGTON, Del, July 21 (Reuters) - The Ritz Camera photography chain was bought in a bankruptcy auction on Tuesday by a group led by the company’s top executive, who plans to keep most of its 375 stores open, according to a lawyer who ran the auction.

RCI, the group that included Ritz Camera President David Ritz, entered a winning bid worth about $33.1 million for the chain’s remaining 375 stores, according to Jay Indyke of Cooley Godward Kronish LLP in New York.

Ritz’s group may keep all the stores open, depending on the outcome of talks with landlords, according to Indyke.

“It was very vigorous bidding,” said Indyke. The auction lasted nearly 24 hours.

Ilex Retail Holdings LLC bid as did a joint venture between liquidators Hilco and Gordon Brothers Group.

David Ritz is the second generation of his family to run the Beltsville, Maryland-based company, which was founded in 1918 in Atlantic City, New Jersey. David Ritz expanded the business with a series of acquisitions, eventually becoming the largest specialty camera chain in the country.

The company entered bankruptcy protection earlier this year with about 800 stores operating as Ritz Camera, Wolf Camera, Kits Cameras, Inkley’s and The Camera Shop. The company also owned 130 Boater’s World stores.

The company said at the time of the filing it had nearly $1 billion in revenue last year and liabilities of between $100 million and $500 million.

Boater’s World and about one-half of the camera equipment stores were liquidated earlier this year as part of an initial reorganization plan.

Earlier this month the company determined it was unlikely to exit bankruptcy as a going concern and decided to sell the remaining stores.

Several bankrupt retailers have opted recently for an auction of operations rather than attempt a traditional reorganization, including Eddie Bauer and Filene’s Basement.

A spokesman for Ritz Camera said the company would not comment until the sale was approved by the bankruptcy court. A hearing on the sale is scheduled for Thursday.

The case is In re: Ritz Camera Centers Inc, U.S. Bankruptcy Court, District of Delaware, No. 09-10617. (Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)