It was 1921 when Elayne Rutberg’s father-in-law first opened Rutberg Furs.
After Rutberg’s father-in-law died, her husband took over. Then when her husband died, he passed the torch to Rutberg. She officially took ownership of Rutberg Furs, which sells a variety of authentic fur products and offers services like fur cleaning and restoration.
“I fell into it,” Rutberg said. “I always liked the fashion business. … I used to come in occasionally, and when my husband passed away, I came to work here full time.”
In the 96 years since the storefront first opened, it has seen a lot of change, both inside the store and in the surrounding Francisville neighborhood. Sitting on the corner of 18th Street and Girard Avenue, Rutberg Furs has undergone three changes in ownership. The popularity of fur has waned, and some of the most popular regular customers have died. The Francisville neighborhood as a whole has undergone substantial development.
“The area’s becoming much different,” Rutberg said. “It was predominantly black, but now we’re getting a lot of different customers because the neighborhood has changed. Everything this side of Girard Avenue is now considered Center City.”
Surrounded by change, Rutberg Furs has persisted.
The business is stocked with thousands of dollars in fur, including floor-length coats, pet carriers and even bullet-proof vests. The storage room in the back is full of fur — refrigerated, locked behind a secure vault and waiting for the rush of customers that Rutberg expects once winter begins.
Rutbeg’s favorite part of running the shop? Her employees.
The store has six full-time staff members, including Rutberg’s nephew Troy Bader.
Bader was interested in fur from a young age. When he was a kid, he left elementary school early every day of the week to come work with his aunt and uncle at Rutberg Furs.
“Years ago, I just stayed,” Bader said. “I like the merchandise. I like high-end customers. I like this kind of business.”
Since Bader’s childhood, business has taken a hit. There seem to be fewer customers interested in fur.
“Some older [customers] have passed away, have retired, have given up this business,” Bader said. “It’s getting smaller and smaller, but I like to keep it going.”
Although the store isn’t as busy as it was during his childhood, Bader still manages. In the winter, it’s so busy he said the store feels more like a delicatessen than a high-end clothing store.
“When your customers keep coming back, and they send their friends and their family, you’re lucky,” Rutberg said.
Text, images and video by Michaela Winberg.