Decades ago, Downtown Pittsburgh was a destination for fine fashions. Many of those upscale stores have since faded like a trend gone out of style. Canadian Fur Co. at 625 Smithfield St. is one that has withstood the test of time and Downtown's changing landscape. For 90 years, it's helped Pittsburghers find furs that fit their lifestyles -- and their pocketbooks.
After four generations, the family business will close Jan. 18 when owner Keith Rosenstock retires. A retirement sale is underway, with much inventory more than 50 percent off. The store carries several top brands, including BLACKGLAMA mink, Max Mara outerwear and Cole Haan.
"It's a little bittersweet," Mr. Rosenstock said. After he announced the store's closing in a letter to its approximately 2,500 active customers, he received hundreds of emails, cards and well-wishes.
Several factors influenced his decision, but financial reasons weren't among them, he said. His sons (both named after other furriers in the family) opted for different career paths, with one studying medicine at Tufts University in Boston and the other working at management consulting firm McKinsey & Co.
His landlord offered him a five-year lease option, but at 64 and with no fifth generation to step in, he declined. Mr. Rosenstock received some inquiries from people inside and outside the business interested in taking over the store, but it's unlikely something will be worked out in time, he said.
In the meantime, he and the store's close-knit group of employees, many of whom average 15 years of service, are enjoying helping customers secure the perfect purchase one last time.
Business has been thriving during the store's final weeks, with sales in November three times what they were the same month last year, he said. In addition to in-store sales, Canadian Fur Co. maintains an e-commerce site at www.canadianfurco.com and a fur cleaning and storage operation in the store.
Over the years, the business has attracted customers with payment plans that let people pay for merchandise over the course of several months with no interest.
"It creates a financial relationship that people like, but at the same time it creates a personal relationship because you've helped people fulfill one of their dreams," Mr. Rosenstock said.
He also attributes the store's longevity to its ability to evolve with the times. "Businesses have to adapt," he said. "If you don't adapt, you're history."
As people's lifestyles, and their fashions, grew more casual, the store started stocking styles that reflected their more relaxed looks, such as shearlings and fur-trimmed cashmere and wool pieces.
"We're trying to do a lot of different things. We're not your grandmother's furrier."
But something that hasn't changed is the store's devotion to its customers.
"Relationships are more important than transactions" is one of the lessons Mr. Rosenstock said that his father, now in his 90s, taught him.
"Building a loyal customer base is more important than making an extra dollar."
The Canadian Fur Co. is open 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturdays and 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Sundays. Information: www.canadianfurco.com or 412-471-1330.
Sara Bauknecht: firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @SaraB_PG