Pappas wraps up family fur store

Century-old furrier business weathered history of Downtown Eastside

A family company that’s been selling high-fashion furs across the globe for more than 100 years will close its doors April 15.

Constantine Pappas said Pappas Furs, located on Hamilton Street across from Victory Square, has a long history in the city.

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“We’re the third generation of my family in the fur industry,” said Pappas, president of the company.

George Pappas landed in New York from Greece after emigrating in 1910 and then moved to Prince George via San Francisco. He worked as a foreman during construction of the Grand Trunk railway line, overseeing a crew of about 200 men. His brother Theodore later joined him and began buying furs from the First Nations people he encountered. It didn’t take Theodore long to become a furrier and together the brothers founded Pappas Furs.

Constantine Pappas said it’s because of his family’s long history in dealing with eco-friendly suppliers with a focus on the humane treatment of animals that he’s never had any qualms about selling fur, despite the occasional protest targeting the store.

“It’s part of my family’s heritage,” said Pappas, who’s worked at the store for 45 years. “In 1969 I worked three days a week while I went to university until I graduated with a degree in psychology. Later I took another full year off to get a teaching degree. I wanted to have a profession, but I’ve always worked in the store.”

Pappas, who turns 63 in May, said his father waited until he was 85 to retire and then passed away at 88.

“I never forgot what my father said to me before he died: ‘Don’t do what I did, you’re still young enough to enjoy yourself,’” said Pappas, who has no children who could take over the company.

The top three floors of the 24,000-square-foot building, which is still owned by the Pappas family, are under construction. Pappas said the top floor will likely become a restaurant, while the other floors and eventually the storefront will be rented out to other companies.

Pappas noted the neighbourhood has undergone a huge transition in the past few decades, adding it was a desirable neighbourhood at the time the Woolworth and Woodward’s department stores flourished nearby. He added with their eventual closures, the neighbourhood went downhill.

“But with the redevelopment of the Woodward’s building it’s becoming a popular neighbourhood again,” said Pappas.

He added it also helped when he and a group of local business owners and residents teamed up with the city and park board around 2000 to redevelop Victory Square across the road. They formed the Friends of Victory Square group and, with the help of the Vancouver Police Department, worked to reclaim the green space, which had become a hotbed of criminal activity and home to a group of squatters. With financial support from the federal and provincial governments, the project was finally completed in 2004.

For now the longtime vegetarian has few plans with the exception of liquidating more than $2 million worth of furs and becoming a master herbalist, a study he’s been interested in for years.

“I’ve been studying at a school of natural healing in Utah and my plan is to finish,” said Pappas. “And I guess I’m becoming a landlord, but that’s about it.”

sthomas@vancourier.com

twitter.com/sthomas10

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