If your idea of fur apparel is a mink stole wrapped around Marilyn Monroe, the Seelye family recommends fast-forwarding into the 21st century. At John Seelye Furs, 9800 Shelbyville Road, people as young as their late 20s are falling for garments made of lynx, fox, coyote (and yes, mink) that go with jeans as well as they do with jewels.
The Seelyes – John, wife Barbara and son Steve – have been in the fur business since 1962, when John began 18 years of service in the old Stewart’s department store. During the early 1980s, they had a store in Oxmoor Center; for the past 27 years, they’ve been at their current location.
“People are realizing how warm fur is, and it’s a true “˜green,’ renewable resource,” said Steve, who has worked in the store since he was 12. “All of these animals are ranched, and the by-products are used in pet food. And the ranchers feed these animals on by-products from fisheries and chicken farms.”
With a half-century of experience behind them, the Seelyes take on every task associated with fur garments, such as cleaning, remodeling, and storing (in a 48-degree vault). They sell a wide range of new fur items and make special orders from scratch.
“We’re very different from the typical retail fur store because we’re actually furriers – you could think of us as mechanics,” John said. “We stay busy with repairs, remodels and alterations. We do it all here – nothing is sent out – so there’s always something to do.”
Customers who come in to buy new fur items tend to head for the jackets, as well as earmuffs, scarves and hats. Stoles and full-length fur coats aren’t quite as popular now, he explained, because “most people don’t dress up the way they used to. A fur jacket can be worn with more everyday clothes.” Fur-lined, reversible raincoats appeal to those who “don’t want to go to work looking as if they’re wearing fur.”
When the mink coat Grandma bought in 1965 comes in for updating (“that’s hard to do with a cloth coat,” John noted), it goes into the back rooms, where the hands-on work takes place. Barbara’s duties include making linings and doing paperwork, while John and Steve do “the big stuff.” Steve compared their skills to those of people who refurbish antique cars and must make parts that are no longer available.
“It’s the same with fur: You don’t just go out and buy the material in bolt and lay it out. Fur comes by the individual skin and has to be matched. You have to know what you’re doing before you start cutting because the skins are worth hundreds of dollars. Start chopping, and you’ve really messed up,” Steve said. “The amount of work that goes into remaking a coat is pretty intensive. We’re quite picky about what we do, and we work until it looks right. That’s a skill, and it’s a dying art.”
John Seelye Furs is open weekdays 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Saturdays 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. For information, call (502) 423-8555.
photos by MARY ALAN WOODWARD | contributing photographer
Category: Business Profile