Sudbury's Lafrance Furs closing its doors

Marc Lafrance, 80, president of Lafrance Furs, says he's seen a lot of changes in the fashion world in his time at the helm, but is looking forward to retirement.

Family-run business was one of Sudbury's oldest

One of the Lafrance Furriers fleet of cars, taken in 1960. (Supplied by Marc Lafrance)

One of Sudbury's longest-running businesses in shutting its doors at the end of March.

Lafrance Furs, which began operations in 1908 as  A. Lafrance & Sons Ltd,, manufactured, sold and stored fur products, such as hats, coats and blankets. 

Marc Lafrance, 80, president of the business, says he's seen a lot of changes in the fashion world in his time at the helm, but is looking forward to retirement.

"I think if I want to have a few years set aside, maybe for blueberry picking and fishing, I better start anytime now," Lafrance said." 

Marc and Claire Lafrance have been operating Lafrance Furs together, but feel it's time to devote more days to their kids and grandchildren. (Supplied by Claire Lafrance)

He added that shutting down was one of the hardest decisions he had to make in his career. 

"I'd been in it all my life," he said. "I started first when I was 14 years old, and I've been there pretty well ever since, you know."

"But before something bad happens, health wise, I figured we're better to do it while we're we have all our senses."

Lafrance said one of his earliest memories in the family business was talking to his dad and uncles as a youngster about the kinds of fur they were dealing in.

 "My first exposure was at the dinner table," he said. "We spoke about raw furs at the dinner table. And I spent many a Saturday and Sunday with my father and uncles. They were grading furs...they'd ship them out at 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning."

In this photo from 1946, staff at Lafrance Furs work together on a project. (Supplied by Marc Lafrance)

In those days, most fur transport was handled by rail.

"The railroad would come and get these huge, huge bags of canvas bags of fur, raw fur, and they'd be sent out to either Montreal or Missouri," Lafrance said. 

As a teenager, he moved up to the cold storage facility, and eventually into the shop itself.

And despite changing fashions, Lafrance said his customers always appreciated the service offered, and he never felt there was a shortage of people looking for fur.

"You know, fur's a natural product," he said. "It's biodegradable and it's also is something that can be reworked." 

"So the coat might be 20, 25 years old, a mother or a grandmother had worn it and granddaughter will have it redone for herself in a new coat. And they look just as though they were brand new, you know?" 

"There's not too many products you can do that with."

Above it all, though, Lafrance said he's been able to stay in business thanks to his family– his wife Claire works with him and his brother had a stake in the company up until 2006.

"Like I say, it's a way of life that our family has had, and I'm the last one in it," he said. "And, you know, I've been blessed and we have been blessed over the many years with absolutely wonderful employees. Even today we have great employees."