After 90 years, Pittsburgh furrier will close doors
Keith Rosenstock's father always told him everything in life is like a baseball game.
Most people who swing for the fences strike out a lot. So, the smart thing is to be a singles hitter.
That philosophy was the basis for Rosenstock's approach to every customer who walked into his store, the Canadian Fur Co., Downtown. It kept him, and three generations who came before him, in the game for 90 years.
The final out will be made Jan. 18. Rosenstock plans to retire and close the store.
“I have operated the business on the premise of what my father always told me about baseball relating to life, and he also told me that relationships are more important than transactions,” says Rosenstock, 63, of his 92-year-old father, Martin. “I would like to be remembered for making furs affordable, and that we at Canadian Fur Co. lived by the ‘enjoy now, pay later' philosophy.”
Through the closing date, Rosenstock is throwing what he calls “a sale to end all sales,” with discounts of at least 40 percent to 50 percent.
“Furs are a luxury item, and not a necessity, and people prefer to pay for them from their income and not their savings,” says Rosenstock, who, like his father, allowed customers to make a down payment with monthly payments for a year without interest. “In this business, what might start as a financial relationship becomes a personal relationship. I would hope that we made it easy for ‘Mrs. Smith' to fulfill her dream of owning a fur coat.”
He made a lot of Mrs. Smiths happy with 70 percent of sales being to repeat customers, 15 percent from online and the other 15 per- cent from people who walk in off the street.
He sent letters to inform his 2,500 active customers of his retirement.
“When I heard, I was like, ‘What? What are you doing? What am I supposed to do,' ” says Verdell Dean-Toth, an attorney for Verdell Dean and Associates, Downtown. “I really like Keith. I loved dealing with his father. He, and Keith, are the reasons why I became a long-term customer. They helped me find the right coat for my lifestyle.”
The Rosenstocks know the fur business, says Sanford W. Harvey Jr., an environmental attorney for Alcoa on the North Side. He bought coats for himself and his wife.
“I was impressed the minute I met Keith,” Harvey says. “He was very open, and he was kind and pleasant. He trusts his customers.”
Rosenstock says many factors contributed to his retirement decision. His age, the prospect of a five-year-lease option and the fact that his sons, P.J. and Nathan (both named after their great grandfathers who were furriers), have decided against following in their father's footsteps.
Keith Rosenstock has had interest, inside and outside the business, to take over and will entertain those inquiries, but that's not likely to happen, he says.
Rosenstock has been a strong retailer and good member of the fur community, says Keith Kaplan, executive director of the Fur Information Council of America.
“We understand that when you have a family business and the next generation chooses another direction, that business might be sold or, in a case like this, closed,” Kaplan says. ”With Keith having such a strong online presence, he can also decide to sell coats without the overhead of a brick-and-mortar store.”
The industry is changing, Kaplan says, and that is another factor. There is more consolidation where fur-only shops now sell other luxury apparel because there is more competition.
Seeing the family business that was established in 1923 close is not easy.
“I am proud to be part of a fourth-generation business, but I understand this is a normal course of events,” Martin Rosenstock says. “I am proud of my son. He is leaving with his head held high, and he doesn't owe anyone a dime, and that is impressive in this day and age. He has kept his word. He is an honorable man.”
There were some trying times, such as the St. Patrick's Day flood in 1936 when the store was looted. That happened at the first store location, in what is now the lobby of Heinz Hall. After the flood, the business was moved to a spot in what is now the Benedum Center, and then to Sixth Avenue, across from the Duquesne Club from 1983-2001. The business has been along Smithfield Street since 2001.
“If I would have known the response to my retirement, I would have retired several times,” Keith Rosenstock says. “It is a sad time, because I grew up in a fur household and so did my wife (Linda Reichlin Rosenstock). We know the furrier business, and you see the tradition and know that tradition.”
After he closes the doors, Rosenstock will continue to be around to settle accounts and help with fur-storage options.
“I don't believe in leaving anyone hanging,” Keith Rosenstock says. “I have wonderful customers and hard-working suppliers and loyal employees. They are like family to me.”
Store manager Katya Nudel has worked for Rosenstock for 17 years.
“We have a working relationship with each other and a special relationship with our customers,” Nudel says. “We try to create an environment that is comfortable because a customer has to feel comfortable. I know this hasn't been an easy decision. It's going to be rough the last time he walks out that door, but he is leaving a lot of good memories for those of us who have worked for him and for our customers.”
Canadian Fur Co. is at 625 Smithfield St., Downtown. Details: 412-471-1330 or www.canadianfurco.com
JoAnne Klimovich Harrop is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-320-7889.