Portrait studios in the Valley View Mall’s Sears store and the Onalaska Walmart have closed after its St. Louis-based parent company, CPI Corp., shut down U.S. operations this week.

Officials at both local stores confirmed the sites did not open Wednesday, though they declined further comment.

CPI, which operates about 2,700 portrait studios inside of Sears and Walmart, has struggled to stay afloat after defaulting with its lenders. Its fourth forbearance agreement with lenders expires Saturday.

In a letter circulated among employees, company CEO Jim Abel said the “decline of our business proved too great an obstacle to overcome.”

The company has tried to find potential buyers and secure additional funding from banks, he noted, but fell short.

Studio employees reportedly were being told they would be paid for hours worked through today, the date of their last paycheck.

But Kayla James, 20, said she was given no such reassurance when she showed up Thursday at the Sears site.

While the four who worked at both local CPI studios knew the company was struggling and had cut back on hours, James said they were given no warning Thursday would be the final day.

“We’re all kind of PO’d,” James said. The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Its website states: “We are attempting to fulfill as many customer orders as possible. If you’ve had a recent session, your portraits may be available at your Sears, PictureMe or Kiddie Kandids portrait studio. For assistance, please contact the customer service department at your local store.”

The Sears Portrait Studio website states customers who have an album or recent portrait session can order products through April 18 at searsphotos.com.

The website for PictureMe Portrait Studios in Walmart stores directs customers to order through myonlineportraits.com. “If you have had a recent session, your portraits may be available at your local studio,” the website states.

The company stated its Canadian sites had “continued to deliver strong financial performance” and would remain open until sold.  The Canadian operations in 2012 included 253 Walmart sites and 110 Sears locations, though that number may since have been reduced.


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