Hawkesbury’s Boutique Levaque Furs will close after 77 years in business
It’s a period of mixed emotions for Jean-Yves Levaque. On May 31, the longtime owner of Boutique Levaque Furs in Hawkesbury will close the family business started by his parents 77 years ago.
“I just want to enjoy life,” says Levaque, of why he decided to shut down the company he’s worked for for more than four decades. “I still love him, I just want to take care of myself now.”
Company steeped in history
Jean-Yves’ parents, Raoul and Marie-Claude, opened R. Levaque Furs in 1945 in a location on Main Street near what is now Restaurant Carole. The business, which offered bespoke fur coats and other products, as well as fur repairs and upgrades, was immediately successful and soon Marie-Claude began offering her own wool products, both raw wool for knitting and finished items such as sweaters and mittens. . The business expanded and moved to its current location at 677 Main Street East in Hawkesbury in the mid-1950s, with the furrier operation located at its current location and Marie-Claude’s wool store where currently finds the store.
Growing up, the couple’s children began to work alongside their parents. His older brother Jean-François and his sister Danielle were already working there when Jean-Yves sewed his first fur in 1975.
“I started sewing fur (when) I was 17,” recalls Levaque, who immediately realized he had a natural ability for the job. “I knew I had it, so I carried on and my brother was the salesman and I was the repairman in the back room.”
Change over time
Jean-Yves worked alongside his father for seven years, taking full control of fur operations with his brother Jean-François when Raoul died in 1982. His mother Marie-Claude continued to sell wool for knitting and Levaque’s own wool garments, however, the wool business began to slow. The fur trade was also in decline, so Levaque began to venture into the sale of sportswear.
“That’s when we started with Patagonia, then Columbia and Sierra Design – all those brands,” says Jean-Yves.
His sisters Danielle and Sergine operated the boutique side for over 20 years and Jean-Yves and his brother continued to operate the fur side, with Jean-Yves managing the large boutique at the back of the store, where he and a team made repairs. and created new models.
“Before, we were a lot of people, because we did at least 100 renovations a year, plus 700 to 800 small jobs”, recalls Jean-Yves. “New collar, new sleeves, bigger coat, weight gain, weight loss, want it shorter – whatever the customer wants.”
Thanks to Levaque Furs, he has created literally thousands of designs and new fur products over the years. Levaque’s also gave new life to coats and other fur products that needed repairs or alterations.
The fur industry has had its ups and downs
In addition to his late father Raoul, Jean-Yves worked alongside three different fur cutters over the years, learning the trade of furrier from each of them.
“First from my father, then from these experts.” says Jean-Yves, adding that he still loves the job. “I was born into this (industry). There have been ups and downs, like any other fashion, but we have survived them all.
Today, his wife Sylvie is the only other employee of the large fur shop behind the store. There were seven workers in the back room, including two finishers, but as the fur industry continued to decline, Jean-Yves decided to take on all the work in the back room himself.
“I decided to do all the work,” he recalls. “The work was decreasing, so I decided to do everything.”
“Now it’s just me and Sylvie. She does the finishing by hand and I do the rest.
The dedicated furrier isn’t swayed by negativity about the fur industry, noting that the fur trade is an important part of Canadian history.
“Canada started with the fur exchange – the first bank opened to finance the fur industry,” says Jean-Yves proudly. “It is part of the history of our country.
Difficult decision to close
The building that houses the Boutique Fourrures Levaque and several residential units was sold last year. While the fur operation will close on May 31, Jean-Yves, who bought out his brother Jean-Francois in 2007, remains hopeful that someone might step in at the last minute and take over the boutique part of the business.
“I’m not happy to close and remove the name of the building,” says Jean-Yves, who will continue to do fur work at home. “If someone approached me before the end, they could continue.”
“Whoever wants to buy the rest can continue Patagonia and just keep one side and rent it out. There is a market. You open the door in the morning and people come in. The name is there.
Jean-Yves says he strongly considered continuing, but made the decision to retire for the sake of his health. He and Sylvie also want to do things they couldn’t do running a business six days a week.
“(I want) to enjoy life – fishing, hunting, four-wheeling,” he says. “Probably, if we can travel – I’d like to go down south in the winter.”
As for his own future in the fur trade he loves?
“I’ll probably leave with 150 coats on my shoulders and take them home to recycle.”
Levaque says that over the years, what has made him happiest is the gratitude from customers. He is also extremely proud of the heirlooms he and the Levaque Furs team have been able to save or reuse.
“You can’t imagine how many women have come here and told me the story of their coat – it has sentimental value and they don’t want to throw it away, they don’t want to sell it,” he says. “They want to bring it back to the family in another way – either in Teddies (bears), cushions, throws.”
Thanks to customers, family and staff
Memories of his time working and running Boutique Levaque Furs are still fresh, and the store owner is extremely grateful to everyone who contributed to his success.
“I would like to thank all our customers for all these years. I want to thank my family,” says Jean-Yves, who also expressed his gratitude to the staff. “We had good employees.
The historic store owner praised longtime employee Diane Lortie, who has worked at Boutique Levaque for 36 years.
“She’s a gem – the best employee a person can hire,” he enthuses.
“It’s become like family to me,” says Lortie, who says she will miss her regular customers and new acquaintances but hopes to be able to spend more time with her grandchildren.
Jean-Yves Levaque says he is very grateful to his parents for leading him to a career he really enjoyed.
“My father let me go,” recalls Jean-Yves. “He said ‘try the machine’, so I did and it worked.”
“I had just finished grade 12 and was ready to go to college or university – I didn’t know what to do in life. I happened to sit on a machine and it worked for me. It’s like a magician, you know if you have it or not.