For owner Harry Zervas, packing up the store this season isn't just hibernation. The coats, vests and earmuffs are permanently leaving the 114 Main Street location as Zervas prepares for retirement after 31 years in business.
Zervas, a grinning man with a tightly trimmed beard, trained as a furrier in Greece before immigrating to New York in 1967. He worked in wholesale distribution in Manhattan before opening his store with his former wife. The only items on the racks? Five blue fox jackets with knitted sleeves.
"My ambition was to thrive, and join the American dream. I'm thankful America gave me the opportunity," Zervas said of opening and operating his business. Zervas said he owns just one fur coat himself, a shear raccoon coat "that kept me so warm, I will never go back to any other wool coats!"
In addition to selling fur pieces, Sign of the Furs has also offered summer fur storage in a climate-controlled environment, a practice Zervas said can ensure a 30-to-45-year life expectancy for coats.
While there are not many fur shops cropping up these days, Zervas did arrange that Alexis and Gianni Fine Furs and Outerwear in Westbury – an established name in the industry, whose owners are also friends of Zervas – would handle the service side of his business. And that gives Zervas peace of mind, knowing that his customers will be taken care of, and by a reputable entity. For at least one customer, though, the relationship with Zervas won't be easily replicated.
"It was a pleasure doing business with him," said Fran Pierce of Baxter Estates, who said she's known Zervas since her husband started buying coats from him 25 years ago. Pierce said she referred many friends and family members to Zervas, who also donated pieces to fundraisers Pierce organized.
"Because I had referred so many people over the years, he gave me a beautiful gift of a mink vest," Pierce said. "That's the kind of man he is,"
Zervas was a member of the for 28 years.
"It's always sad when a business that's been around for so many years closes," said Bobbie Polay, the chamber's president.
"It's been an institution on Main Street," she said, noting that this type of business is a rarity now. "We wish him a very happy retirement."
Zervas said he doesn't yet know what will take his store's location, but already has plans to cruise the world, from Hawaii to the Caribbean, all the way to the Mediterranean.
"Life is interesting at any age. It depends on how active, ambitious the person is," Zervas said of his retirement.
Zervas said he is selling his remaining pieces at or below wholesale prices until the store's last day, Jan. 31, 2011.