In early 1997, pioneering photo retailer Ed Ritz, who passed away on March 30, was talking with a reporter about his long career in the industry. “I could be the iron man of photo retailing specialists,” he said.
There was no mystery about why he said it. It was in 1936 that Ed Ritz joined his brother, Benjamin, in the portrait studio he had founded. “Ben wanted to merchandise photofinishing . . . and had decided to advertise a complete package at a popular price,” Ed Ritz said.
It didn't take long for the bro-thers to realize they were on to something. Quality developing and printing, delivered overnight at 25¢ a roll, proved to be just what people wanted. “The line of customers stretched from the counter out into the street,” Ed Ritz said, and the lesson stuck: figure out what people want, and never be afraid of change or the future.
The brothers opened their first camera center in 1937 in Baltimore. “By 1939,” Ritz said, “we had to relocate to a [larger] location to handle the traffic.” At the time, about the only cameras available were Kodak, Ansco and some German models, but that didn’t seem to matter as it was darkroom supplies, paper and chemicals that were most in demand by hobbyists. But as he pointed out, customers weren’t coming only for the products. “[They] appreciated our store for the information and education we were able to provide,” he said. Also the service: “The third largest traffic item in our shop, after processing and film sales, was the free service of loading and unloading the paper-backed film of that era from customer’s cameras. That’s when we learned that good, pleasant customer service kept people coming back for more.”
Ultimately Ritz became the first chain photofinisher to offer 4×6 prints from 35mm film, as well as free bordered prints as standard items. As store locations were added, so were services and retail goods, as Ritz Camera became the one-stop shop for all photographic needs.
At one point in its history, Ritz Camera Centers, predecessor of Ritz Camera & Image, was the largest full-service photo chain in the country, and in a very real sense the growth of the photo industry since the days of 1936 was paralleled by the growth of the Ritz family business. “Ritz Camera is not claiming credit for this growth,” Ed Ritz said back in 1997, but he added, “ I am glad that we participated in it.”
Today Ritz is the nation’s largest photo specialty chain, with more than 1,000 stores in 47 states. Still family owned, it has been headed by Ed’s son, David, since 1978.
Perhaps the prime example of Ed Ritz’s foresight was the company’s early steps to use computers to control and direct its growing business. “There was a point in the early ’60s,” he said, “when we stopped and said, “We have 12 stores and we don’t know what the hell is going on in them. I realized there was no sense in growing unless we could control it. Information made the difference, and I made the decision to use computers.”
Ed Ritz's career was marked also by service to the photo industry and an abiding concern with its growth. He was president of the Photo Marketing Association from 1973 to 1974, chaired PMA’s convention committee for many years and was vice president of PMA Services. He was elected to the PMA Hall of Fame in 1984.
Edward C. Ritz is survived by his wife, Irene K. Ritz; son, David M. Ritz; daughter, Linda Ritz Dolphin; five grandchildren; and one great-grandchild.