Perspectives from ISB

If it snowed more than 7 inches on New Year’s Day, customers who had bought a fur, leather or other coat at Ribnick Luxury Outerwear in December would have been entitled to a full refund. Bill Ribnick, president of the Warehouse District business, wasn’t sweating the offer. He had bought an insurance policy to cover the snow risk.

“Dad said we had to change with the times,” said Bill Ribnick, 61. “Keep doing what works and keep adding things. We’ve also tried things over the years that didn’t work”.

And business has been fun and pretty good for an unpretentious but landmark outfit that is believed to be the oldest retailer in the trendy neighborhood now known as the North Loop.

Bill Ribnick is the grandson of pelt wholesaler Isaac Ribnick, a Latvian immigrant who started the business a century ago in the hardscrabble blocks north of downtown. It has adapted and prospered in an era of consolidation and closings among family-owned specialty retailers.

“Generally, around the country there has been a decrease of independent fur retailers,” said Keith Kaplan, who knows Ribnick’s from his time as an executive with the Fur Information Council of America. “Many of them were family businesses, started by Greeks or Eastern Europeans and handed down generation to generation. But the kids often go to school and become doctors or something else, and they don’t want to go into business.

“And there’s more competition from department stores and specialty [chain] retailers. But Bill Ribnick has been one of those who took over the business and had the vision to evolve.”

Burt Ribnick joined the family trade alongside his father, Isaac. Burt was personable and an innovator. He spent up to 10 percent of sales, which came to about $100,000 at the time, on newspaper ads in which he often appeared.

“We evolved because the neighborhood evolved, but even before that we had expanded into leather and cashmere and down coats and sheepskin, or shearling,” Bill Ribnick said, friendly, albeit a bit more reserved than his ad-posing father.

When Bill came into the business, the store was a destination for affluent customers seeking long mink coats. Now, two-thirds of the customers are affluent empty nesters and young professionals, many of whom live in or near downtown. They want a variety of styles, fabrics and prices.

Meanwhile, the fourth generation is onboard. One of Bill’s children, Justin, 32, works alongside his dad in the family business. And he’s a whiz at social media marketing and understanding the outerwear tastes of his generation.

Source: St. Anthony, Neal., January 1, 2017,