Although the ownership and name have changed through the years, downtown Charleston has had a fur service store at 817 Quarrier St. for more than a century.
But the third and current iteration of the furrier, House Of Luxe, looks to be the last. The store is liquidating its entire inventory as owner Catherine Nutter looks to retire from the industry and move on to a different business venture, possibly at the same Quarrier Street location.
Demand for fur garments and accessories, Nutter said, has dropped since Steiger’s Fur opened at the location in 1908. The business was taken over by Empire Fur in 1995.
“The old days, like at Steiger’s, you would actually make the garments like these long mink coats,” Nutter said at her store Friday morning. “Most women bought something there that they were going to keep for decades. But that’s been altered. We’re in an economy where people want to sell furs more than ever.”
Nutter reopened the business in 2010 as House of Luxe, because she said the fur storage offered during the summer months was a unique service in Charleston. It was also a way to give her purpose and activity shortly after her husband, Fil, had died of heart failure.
In the seven years since then, people’s shopping habits have drastically changed.
“If you’ve been keeping up with the news, you know we’re constantly fighting online shopping,” she said. “I’ve been trying to make people aware of the business through social media, but it’s so different now. You see what’s happening to old family businesses here.”
Ups and downs are common in the retail industry, as spending and consumption habits change — some businesses struggled in the wake of a slow start to the holiday shopping season. This can particularly affect local shops like House of Luxe, which focused on one commodity. Two small-business staples, Sneed’s Vacuum & Sewing Center and Textile Mills Cloth Shop, closed earlier this year in the wake of fewer people sewing.
National retailers haven’t been immune to recent shakeups, either. J.C. Penney recently announced it would be closing between 130 and 140 stores in the next several months.
The Sears anchor store at the Charleston Town Center mall is one of several Sears locations that will be closing this year as the retail giant faces a severe sales slump.
But small businesses like House of Luxe don’t have as much room for error as J.C. Penney and Sears do. Naomi Bays, owner of Oddbird Gift Emporium, on Capitol Street, in Charleston, said that’s the risk she and other owners knowingly take when they open their businesses.
“Small downtown businesses will always be here,” she said. “But sometimes the industry changes and old ones close down and new ones come in. It’s the way it has always been.”
Tammy Krepshaw, owner of The Consignment Company, on Capitol Street, said a weak economy and warmer weather has made the fur clothing House of Luxe offers a less popular option.
“Charleston just isn’t a fur-wearing city anymore,” she said.
Bays said long-running local shops, like House of Luxe and its predecessors, are in the minority in Charleston. Prior to Oddbird opening in 2016, Bays said, a number of businesses tried to succeed at her location before quickly closing down.
The closings in downtown retail have been particularly noticeable since House of Luxe opened, according to Nutter.
“I’ve been here seven years, and all the places around me have opened after I did,” she said.
The Charleston Area Alliance is helping Nutter try to establish a different type of business at the location, according to CAA President Matthew Ballard.
“[Nutter] has always been very creative, and we all know that businesses have to evolve and innovate with the times,” he said.
Cody Shuler, entrepreneur project manager at the CAA, said one of the options for Nutter could be to start her own consignment store.
Consignment stores are uniquely tailored for the online age, according to Krepshaw. Although she doesn’t sell online, Krepshaw buys clothes people often bought online but did not meet their needs, one way or another. In return, she gets clothes that are close to brand new at a lower price.
The Consignment Company has weathered the aftermath of 9/11, when Krepshaw first opened in October 2001, the financial crisis of 2008 and current economic struggles in West Virginia caused by the decline of the coal industry.
“I haven’t been threatened by [online shopping],” Krepshaw said. “If anything, it has given us more choices as a consignment store.”
Nutter said all options are on the table for her next business venture, but she is still trying to figure out what her future holds.
“I wish I had a crystal ball,” she said, “because, in my case, I don’t know what exactly I’ll do next.”
Reach Max Garland at firstname.lastname@example.org, 304-348-4886 or follow @MaxGarlandTypes on Twitter.