My mother died when I was 10 so I was raised by my grandparents. My grandfather was bigger than life, he hung with Winston Churchill, Menachem Begin, and other notables. But he was also a street fighter who had fought as a Marine against the Nazis. He loved the common man as much as the top tier guys. Saturday morning we would fire up the 1971 Thunderbird and drive to 225 Howard Street to the “fur store.” What a world for a 12 year old. I ran errands, picked up corned beef sandwiches at Lexington Market, made boxes and did whatever needed doing. My favorite time was watching people line up to meet with my grandfather. They came from all walks of life. I even became friends with Paul, a double amputee who begged in front of our store. Wow all these people orbiting around our family fur business! What excitement!
Then as a teenager I began traveling, my other passion. I went to Copenhagen, New York and Denver. I studied with the best furriers in the world and learned what really makes our product special. What was used literally to keep humans alive in cold climates has become a self expression of one’s personal style. And this was being done by designers and furriers in places that I worked. I even took care of a coronation robe from the 1600s from a Danish king!
And the friends I made along the way within this tiny fur trade fraternity have impacted my life in such positive ways. Each had his or her amazing story within and without the fur industry. My mentor is Tomas Nacos- he came from a very small town in Northern Greece to become the largest wholesaler in North America. Tom had wisdom, integrity and foresight. I asked him once what was the biggest failure in thinking by retailers. He said that they believed the recent pas would continue into the near future. That meant if they had a good season they believed the next would also be good. He saw the future differently and was therefore able to differentiate himself and his business. He taught me to never cut corners even if the customer would not know. He even make a chinchilla coat for a customer of mine, Patti LaBelle.
Joe Hamilton showed me there was fun to have in the fur retail business; that customer interaction did not have to be dry. He showed me how to use his personality to transcend the sale from an exchange of money and fur to something more profound. His family had an old fur business in Portland, Oregon and Joe was striking out on his own in Denver. Last year, 30 years after I had worked for him, I visited him when I went to see the Ravens play the Broncos. The bond we had was still there and there was much to catch up on both personally but also about the fur trade.
There seems to be no place I go that I can’t visit a furrier and have much in common. I went to Austin, Texas to see my son and met Al from AlMar Furs. We had quite a few common friends and hit it right off. Meeting furriers to me is like meeting a friend. It’s like a tiny club.
A few years ago I was in Denmark for a meeting of the International Fur Federation and met chinchilla farmers from Hungary. After 10 minutes we discovered our families were both from Kisvardi. A small town my great grandfather Mano Swartz had been born in.
And I can’t even begin to tell you how many special caring people I have meet the last 34 years working in our family business. I have seen great acts of kindness as well as great acts of bravery and compassion. Our customers have let me into their lives and for this I am eternally grateful.
We have had the opportunity to provide and care for family heirlooms and irreplaceable items that have great sentimental value. It’s a responsibility that we take great pride in. And when someone thinks a fur is ruined and we are able to restore it, that is the greatest! Or when we can remake an inherited fur into a modern wearable garment. Think stole into reversible vest. That makes me feel so good!
Want to see more remarkable customers? Because that’s who makes the business.