MONTREAL — The heart of Canada’s fur industry in the downtown core here is being hit by higher rents due to rising land values, forcing some fur garment manufacturers to find better deals outside the city center.
Office and residential developers are pushing out the furriers, who are mostly family-owned businesses and who have been in the neighborhood for more than 50 years.
That could mean higher costs and longer waiting in the fur-making process because many furriers and subcontractors will no longer be working in close proximity, sometimes in the same building. It could also mean a loss of business from locals and tourists who stay in nearby hotels.
The first blow occurred three years ago when a classic 11-story building on tiny Mayor Street that housed dozens of fur garment manufacturers was converted into 120 luxury condominiums.
The latest setback is a plan to transform the Fifties-era Gordon Brown building on nearby de Maisonneuve Boulevard in the heart of the fur district into new office space. Rents will jump from $5 a square foot to $16 (converted from Canadian dollars), leaving the furriers with little choice but to find cheaper space.
“I’ll be very sorry to leave when our lease is up next March. We’ve been in this building for 50 years,” said Gabie Grossman, 84, whose father Samuel came to Montreal 85 years ago from Leipzig, Germany, and started Samuel Grossman Furs.
Grossman said a lot of furriers are considering moving to the garment district on Chabanel Street in the north end of the city, but he wants something a little more upscale.
“A lot of landlords in this area don’t want to lease to furriers, because they don’t want the hair getting into their ventilation systems,” he said.
There are about 40 furriers in the Brown building, and a number of them have already moved out, according to Alan Herscovici, executive vice president of the Fur Council of Canada. Others will probably leave when their leases expire in 2008 and 2009, he said.
The Fur Council is working with different levels of government to look at ways to keep the industry downtown.
“It’s not just an industry problem, it’s also a problem for the city if they lose a major tourist attraction. There are references all over the city relating to the fur industry, but nothing tying it together.”
One of the main references Herscovici pointed out is McGill University, named after benefactor James McGill, an 18th-century merchant who got his start trading furs with Native Americans after emigrating from Scotland to the American colonies and from there moving to Montreal, the main fur trading center.