Latest news is that Olan Mills in England and Wales will be closing all 34 stores there. I can’t find anything about how healthy the US company is, so don’t run screaming about the portrait studio giant going out of business here.
But the news items all talk about how people in the UK have pre-paid for sittings and may get ripped off for their money. To me, the bigger question is: What happens to all the portraits they’ve already taken and for which they hold the original negatives or files?
Some years ago, my mother called Olan Mills because she had a portrait (marked with their logo) of a deceased sister, and she wanted to get copies. She was told then (about 20 years ago) that they only kept the negatives for two years, and she should just got have it copied. Of course, no commercial place would copy a copyrighted and marked portrait – not to mention the quality of a copy would be pretty poor. The same holds true for today.
I don’t know what today’s policy for Olan Mills, or any other big chain portrait studio (Target? Sears?), is for image retention, nor how to obtain copies later, but that would be the first question I would ask if visiting a large chain. It’s a question easily answered by your local portrait photographer, since s/he is the owner, manager and policy-maker, and the one who can make a decision if you ask to “buy the negative.” Try asking anything of the person that runs the counter at a big chain studio.