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Wolf To Open Four N.Y. Stores

Wolf Camera, the 700-plus-store specialty chain, plans to open four new locations in New York City within the first quarter of next year, bringing its Big Apple store count to five.

All five units will be located in Manhattan, clustered within the borough’s tony Upper West Side and Upper East Side sections.

Wolf first entered the New York market in September 1998 with the purchase of Westside Camera, a popular, 27-year-old photo retailer with a single 6,000-square-foot store. The new locations, ranging from about 4,000 to 5,000 square feet, will still dwarf most Wolf outlets, which are typically 1,800 to 2,200 square feet in size.

According to Wayne Freedman, Wolf’s senior VP of marketing, the Westside acquisition “allowed us to learn about the New York market, about the competition and about the consumers.”

Freedman said the openings would be staggered, with the first coming as early as January, followed by two more in February and the fourth in March. Although all four leases already have been signed, opening dates are tentative due to final construction details that are still being hashed out, he explained. Whether Wolf will keep the Westside name on its initial New York location or fully incorporate the store into the fold is also yet to be determined.

Atlanta-based Wolf Camera was founded 25 years ago by CEO Chuck Wolf with stores in Atlanta and Charlotte, N.C. After opening its 100th store in 1990, the privately held chain embarked on an aggressive growth strategy that doubled its store count to 200 by 1996. The company more than doubled in size again with the 1998 purchase of the 450-store CPI/Fox Photo and Proex chain from Eastman Kodak, which extended its market reach into 36 states.

Aside from brick & mortar competitors, Wolf, a film traditionalist, also finds itself confronted by digital imaging and e-commerce. At a recent meeting of the PhotoImaging Manufacturers & Distributors Association (PMDA) in New York, Wolf said, “We view the 35mm and the 24mm Advanced Photo System color roll as the atom of our business. It is the basic unit of life. From the color roll, all good things come.”

While acknowledging that digital, video and the Internet represent tremendous growth opportunities for photo retailers, he sees the new technologies as an adjunct, rather than a successor, to traditional photography. “Consumers want service, quality, convenience and competitive prices, and most importantly, they own millions and millions of 35mm and Advanced Photo System cameras,” he said. “They have a lot of traditional picture taking left in them.”