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Ritz rebuilds in deals with Verizon, PNC

"We're looking at reopening some stores in Philadelphia"

LaMastra, former president of Atlanta-based Raving Brands (Moe's Southwest Grill), says Ritz financed growth with a $25 million line of credit from PNC Bank. "They came forward quickly after the acquisition," he told me. "It says a lot, in the current retail market, to have that kind of financing in place." Philadelphia-based PNC banker Dan Stella closed the deal, and Susanna Siskind services the loan.

He says the biggest change at the "new" Ritz and its sister stores isn't how many there are, but what they sell - which now includes Verizon phones and services, among other things. Besides selling cameras and printing film and digital images, Ritz wants to be the place you go - or email, through its newWebsite,  - to get blow-ups, books and other shop-quality copies from your mobile-phone photos.

"We've been talking to Ritz for the last few years," but only closed a deal when it came out of bankruptcy, Armen Dermarderosian, director of strategic alliances for Verizon in Basking Ridge, NJ, told me. Verizon also has "agency erlationships" with Wal-Mart, Target and Best Buys, among other chains. Wal-Mart, in particular, took years to negotiate.  "We're very careful when we get into that second line of retailers. We need the right brand from every perspective. Ritz fits into that. 

"I grew up with Ritz. They got themselves into some challenges based on not changing as quickly as they needed to. We have a high confidence level that their leadership understands that many of the cameras in our phones rival what you get from a mid-level digital camera, with up to five megapixels in the Motorola Droid. Couple that with, people have their phones on them all the time."

Dermarderosian says he heard about Ritz's new leadership after reading my column last July. "We feel it's a very good potential relationship. We don't partner with everybody."