Friday, March 14, 2014

Unreturned rental gear from bankrupt Calumet Photographic isn't owned by renters

Calumet Photographic Logo, courtesy of Calumet PhotographicFor many of us in the photography world, it was a sad day today, when we learned that Calumet Photographic in the US filed for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy on March 12th, and closed all their stores in the US.

Apparently their employees were given no warning of the impending bankruptcy, and many have personal belongings remaining behind the locked doors of Calumet's stores. They appear to be completely in the dark about what will happen next, and when they can retrieve their belongings.

Calumet was an important part of the communities in which they had stores, not only selling equipment to professionals and amateurs alike, but offering quality classes for photographers at affordable prices.

The Calumet website, as well as their Twitter and Facebook accounts have been shut-down.

Until it was taken down, the following announcement could be seen on Calumet's Facebook page,
“After 75 years of business it is with a heavy heart that we announce our immediate closing in the United States (our European stores will continue). It has been a joy to share our passion for photography with you all of these years. We’ll miss each other and we’ll miss all of our customers. Thank you for everything.”
Calumet had 15 locations in the US, and 17 in Europe.

It is highly unlikely, despite Calumet apparently wishing to reopen a few of its stores in the US, that it will be able to do so.

A Chapter 7 bankruptcy filing means the business ceases operations unless continued by the Chapter 7 Trustee, which isn't often. Chapter 7 trustees, appointed by the court have broad powers to examine the business's financial affairs. Under Chapter 7, the trustee typically sells all the company's assets and distributes the proceeds to its creditors. Generally all employees lose their jobs.

The financial situation for Calumet US looks particularly bleak. The papers filed in Bankruptcy Court, Case 14-08908, for Calumet, indicate that Calumet has declared less than $50K in assets and between $1M and $10M in liabilities.

There are many US Calumet customers who are currently holding photography gear rented from the company, and are currently unable to return the gear, as all stores are closed. It is important for Calumet's rental customers to understand, that despite Calumet going bankrupt, they still own the rental equipment in the hands of their customers.

Anyone holding equipment rented from Calumet in the US should carefully put it aside, where it won't become damaged, so the Calumet Chapter 7 Trustee will be able to successfully retrieve it. Typically, not too long after the trustee is appointed, and the financial affairs of the company are examined, the trustee or an agent of the trustee will contact renters and arrange for the return of the rented equipment, as they are assets of the company which will be used to pay company liabilities to the extent possible.

If you have such gear, don't permit the equipment to be lost or damaged as you will be liable for its value. You may be offered an opportunity to purchase the gear at a distressed price. If so you will have the choice to purchase it, or return it. If you do return it, make sure you have a receipt to prove you followed the procedure for its return, specified by the trustee.

Unfortunately, if you have a warranty, backed by Calumet US, unless something unusual or unforeseen occurs, your warranty has been lost to the bankruptcy.

If you hold a store credit with Calumet US, hold on to your paperwork, but don't expect to be able to use any part of it.  You're an ordinary creditor of the company and you're standing in line behind the secured creditors, and others who have likely already filed as creditors and may have precedence ahead of you. You should consider filing your claim with the bankruptcy court, however, if  Calumet's bankruptcy court filing is accurate, the best you can get is 5¢ on the dollar (A $500 store credit would fetch no more than $25.) and that's virtually impossible considering the secured creditors will be paid first, and at a higher rate than any unsecured creditors.

If you've got a pre-paid order at Calumet US, which you haven't received, you're in the same boat as if you were holding a store credit from the company, unless you paid by credit card (If you paid by debit card you don't have the protections afforded by credit card payments. It's as if you paid in cash.).

If you've paid for the Calumet US order, you didn't receive, by credit card, immediately contact your credit card company and dispute the charge. You will be given a temporary credit, but then you'll need to provide sales documentation, as well as any evidence you might have which indicates you never received the order's merchandise. This could mean an email indicating a shipping date, for example, which is after the company closed due to the bankruptcy. If the details show the dispute is legitimate, that Calumet US didn't deliver your order, you could be issued a permanent credit.

If you're in the US, and in serious need of a part for a Calumet product, you might be able to purchase the part from Calumet in Europe. You can contact Calumet in the UK, via their website or by telephone at, “08706 03 03 03,” or by email at,


Jerry-Chicago said...

Very sad to see them go, but it wasn't really a surprise. They lost their best store people over the last couple of years, at least near me, and their stock was awful. Sometimes I had to wait a week for something I wanted. I stopped using them about a year ago.

Tom-Denver said...

Thanks for the advice on contacting my credit card company. I had just ordered a Nikon D4S at $6,500 a day before they closed. I called my credit card company and they're working on it. I'm very hopeful based on what they said to me, but they guaranteed nothing.

Vic-Seattle said...

Ned, I really have a chance to get the credit card company to credit me for the tripod I ordered but haven't received from Calumet?

Ned S. Levi said...

Indeed you do Vic, but you've got to act right away. Just about every card company I know runs their customer service department 24x7, so I'd contact them immediately if I were you.

Camlady said...

I have a 3500.00 store credit
What you said was grim news for me
Should I still file a claim? Would legal assistance be helpful? Thanks
I called their lawyer but have not heard back!

Ned S. Levi said...

Wow Camlady, that's a huge credit. Sorry to hear about it. I doubt a lawyer is going to be much help. You're going to be at the end of the line. Several other people have contacted me. Between you all you have more than $10K in store credits.

It can't hurt to file a claim, but the lawyers get paid first. Supposedly the company has $50K in assets, and at least $1M in debts. Right there, that's $0.05 on the dollar before lawyer's fees, court costs, and secured creditors.

I wish there was better news.

Richard S. said...

How do you file a claim, I have 1800.00 in gift cards

Ned S. Levi said...

Richard, you need to contact the Bankruptcy trustee. As a standard claim you may end up with very little, however, it appears as though if the acquisition goes through, the new company will honor the Calumet gift cards. We just don't know the extent this will happen yet, or precisely how it will work.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Ned S. Levi said...

The comment above was removed by me as it advocating stealing equipment from the new owners of Calumet, who as it turns out aren't the bad guys, and in fact, despite having no legal obligation to do so, have worked out deals with old Calumet customers which took cash right out of their pockets for nothing other than some good will.

Not returning rental equipment, especially in large amounts is nothing more than grand theft. I'm sure no one reading this blog would want a customer of theirs doing the same to them.

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