London’s last furrier, still busy despite vocal criticism, to close

London’s last furrier is about to shut down.

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London’s last furrier is about to shut down.

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The Wortley Road fur shop will close at the end of the month after 45 years in business, with the COVID-19 pandemic being the last straw for Martin VanDerMark, who is set to retire.

“I am approaching retirement age and COVID-19 has put a damper on our business. We were closing and opening and closing and opening and it’s not fun to do, ”he said.

While pandemic shutdowns hurt his business, he stressed that the economy was not the most important factor. Although fur was rejected by animal rights activists, demand remained strong, he said.

“I never went a day without work, even with animal rights activists and the changes in fashion. I’ll tell you, it’s not just grandmothers who buy coats. A lot of young girls want fur, ”he said.

“If I had to live on my sales of leather coats, I would go bankrupt. “

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His most popular seller by far, he says, is a teddy bear that he makes and sells locally for $ 100. He still makes his own coats, which range from $ 2,700 to $ 2,900 for beaver, $ 4,500 to $ 7,000 for mink and about $ 1,800 for muskrat.

These $ 100 teddy bears, once made like a lark, are Fur Boutique's best sellers, says owner Martin VanDerMark, who is retiring this month after 45 years in business.  (Mike Hensen / The London Free Press)
These $ 100 teddy bears, once made like a lark, are Fur Boutique’s best sellers, says owner Martin VanDerMark, who is retiring this month after 45 years in business. (Mike Hensen / The London Free Press)

“Some people hate fur and others tell me I’m a mean man who works with fur. I own two cats and two dogs. If I had to kill an animal, I would be bankrupt. I can not. But I see the skins as materials.

London once had half a dozen fur shops and VanDerMark is the last, he said.

“Canada got out of the fur industry. Hudson Bay has put Canada on the map. Business is still good for me, but it’s time to close.

VanDerMark declined to disclose his age, claiming only that he was of retirement age.

“I’m the last one standing. Many young people no longer want to work with their hands. They want to sit behind computers and it’s hard work, ”he said.

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He will sell the Wortley Road building he owns, but will not sell the business.

VanDerMark learned his trade in the Netherlands as a young man working for a furrier in Amsterdam.

“After WWII we were poor, my father passed away and it was time for me to start working. I went to a fur store they were hiring and my mom needed the money, ”VanDerMark said.

He learned to measure, make patterns, cut and sew fur coats at the Rotterdam school. “I am a master furrier. This means that I can buy skins and make a coat from scratch.

He and his family decided to immigrate to Canada after visiting relatives in London and marveling at the space living here compared to his home. He was happy in Amsterdam, but his wife wanted to make the trip, he said.

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“I had a good job in Amsterdam, but I have three children and not much space for the children to play. We fell in love with Canada.

His family came here in 1970 and he went to work for Forest Furs, mending coats. The store bought coats from a supplier in Montreal and VanDerMark pointed out that it could make coats for sale.

“I went out and started my own business” in 1976 in the same building on Wortley Road it is now located.

None of his children will take over the business, despite having a son and daughter working in the store. Her son works in the fur trade, makes fur products and sells them at trade fairs.

As for what he will do next, VanDerMark enjoys being a soccer referee and plays percussion in the Tomato Soup Band, a group formed in 1992 by members of the Dutch Canadian Club in London.

“We have averaged about 25 shows a year, weddings and parties,” VanDerMark said of the group before the pandemic. “This is very fun.”

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