The landmark Ribnick Luxury Outerwear in North Loop has sold its building and will shut its fur coat store for good in December, ending a stunning 76-year run and bragging rights as the last surviving fur retailer in Minneapolis and St. Paul.
The historic business at 224 North First St. in Minneapolis is the North Loop's oldest retailer.
Naomi Thompson, the lifestyle director at the Hewing Hotel four blocks from Ribnick's, was shocked to hear that the store is closing.
"Ribnick Furs is legendary. That name has been synonymous with furs for decades," she said. "It's like a Dayton's. It is a name you remember."
Ribnick Furs, with 10 employees, outlasted other notable fur stores in the region. The L.A. Rockler Fur shop on N. 4th Street closed last year after nearly 100 years in business. The iconic Schlampp's in Uptown, Bjorkman's on Nicollet Mall in Minneapolis and Cedric's Fur in Edina all shuttered years ago.
And now, after selling fur coats to business owners and such luminaries as Prince, Dolly Parton and Kirby Puckett, owner Bill Ribnick said it is time to also call it quits.
As a boy, his father brought him to the store to be a "runner," racing to get customers' furs out of storage. He was 12. He took over the business at age 37, when his father, Burt, died in 1993.
He's been running the store seven days a week ever since.
"Now I'm 65. I sold the building and now it's time to just enjoy life away from work," Ribnick said during a quick break as nostalgic customers swarmed the store as they learned of its imminent closing. "That is all there is to it. I have children and grandchild in town and other interests. And it's just time to get to the next chapter."
Sale signs of 40% to 60% off hang in the store's front windows and across coat racks and shelves that showcase sheared mink jackets, leather satchels, handbags bags, boots, and shoes.
"Today we probably had 200 bodies through the door," Ribnick said.
One customer bought eight coats.
"They are stocking up because they say, 'Where else am I going to be able to buy this?' " Ribnick said. "Some have been crying. Everyone understands why we are doing what we are dong. They are happy I am retiring. But they all say they will miss the experience of our shop. They like the product. It's fun."
Ribnick Furs was started as an animal-pelt wholesale operation by Bill's grandfather, Isaac Ribnick, a Latvian immigrant, in 1945.
Bill's father, Burt, ran it for years, followed by Bill. Bill hoped his son, Justin, might be the fourth generation to take over the family business, "but he decided to go in a different direction," Bill Ribnick said.
The store lasted through the generations and the Great Recession, and persevered despite a fashion industry and consumer trends that at times has been hostile to the fur trade. (Last year, the Minneapolis City Council briefly considered a proposal to ban fur sales. It died in committee.)
Ribnick said his business even triumphed during the pandemic. The store shut down in March 2020, per orders from Gov. Tim Walz, but opened six weeks later.
Ribnick was relieved when customers still brought in their furs for storage and then decided to treat themselves to a new fur as they waited out the pandemic and its travel restrictions.
Customers now lament how much they will miss the store. And Ribnick will miss them. "Here? Your customers become friends and your family," he said. "That is what I will miss."
Ribnick signed a confidentiality agreement, so would not say who bought his property or what the future use of the site might be. The county has yet to list the sales transaction in its electronic real estate records.
The site, on the corner of N. First Street and N. Third Avenue, retains the original two-story brick buildings, a single-story addition added nearly 40 years ago, and a highly coveted parking lot.
The site is surrounded by restaurants, unique retail stores, condominiums and some offices in the vibrant North Loop area.
Hoss Al-Gassid, who manages the nearby upscale men's clothier and furnishings store Martin Patrick 3, said the news was tough to take. Ribnick and the owners of Martin Patrick 3 are close friends.
"Bill is such a nice guy. We have known him for so long that it is sad to see him leave," Al-Gassid said. "Bill's store has been a staple on that corner for so long. I thought someone might buy him out or that he might sell the business."
Martin Patrick 3 and Ribnick often shared clientele and sent business to each other. "We are both in a certain price point," Al-Gassid said.
"It's sad to see the end of a long standing business. But for Bill, this is a positive," said Joanne Kaufman, executive director of the Warehouse District Business Association. "He has been able to sell the building and I hope he made a handsome profit. While this is a change, I don't think it is anything more than that. It will not have an ill effect on the area."
Minneapolis City Council Member Lisa Goodman praised the family for its contributions to the city.
"Small, family-owned-and-operated businesses are what has made retail in Minneapolis unique," she said. "The Ribnick family has operated their shop for generations in a neighborhood that has transformed and reinvented itself for the future. I am sorry to see them close, I value their historic retail history and appreciate their commitment to our city."
1945 Isaac Ribnick buys a two-story brick building at 224 N. First St. and opens Ribnick Furs.
1968 Isaac's 12-year-old grandson Bill Ribnick begins work as a fur "runner," fetching coats out of storage for customers.
1980s Ribnick's adds a one-story addition to the store.
1987 Twins win the World Series and Ribnick Furs outfits the team (and their spouses) in furs for ticker tape parade and White House visit.
1993 Isaac Ribnick's son Burt dies, leaving Bill Ribnick in charge of the business.
ca. 2011 Bill Ribnick's son, Justin, begins working full time in the store.
March 2020 Pandemic hits; store closes for six weeks.
2021 Bill Ribnick sells the building; announces he will close Ribnick Luxury Outerwear for good Dec. 31.