The year was 1893. On Feb. 21, furrier Emil Dittrich of London opened a wholesale shop on the second story of a store on Witherall Avenue. He bought pelts directly from the trappers and made them into scarves and collars for wool coats.

Today, Dittrich Furs is a fifth-generation family-owned business. It is the oldest family-owned retail business in Detroit.

Emil Dittrich only used the finest pelts in his garments, and soon had both a thriving retail business and a wholesale operation. It outgrew its original location after Word War I and moved to the Fisher Arcade on Woodward Avenue. Emil and his three sons, Francis, Harold E. and Alfred operated the business until it moved to its third location on Grand River in 1928.

In 1965, freeway construction required another move, and Dittrich Furs relocated to its current home at 7373 Third Ave. The store also underwent many changes, including making facilities state-of-the-art.

At the same time, Harold E. Dittrich brought his three sons Robert, Donald and Harold M. into the business. Harold’s first lesson to each new employee, including his sons, was to take them to the sales floor where he would point to the front door and state “When someone comes through that door, we treat them like they are coming into our living room.” The Dittrich family still gives the same instructions to every new employee.

Harold M. Dittrich began his career at Dittrich’s as a young boy distributing flyers door-to-door for the company; was chairman of the board for more than 20 years; and remained active in the business until his death in 1996. Under his guidance, along with his son, Harold (Hal) G. Dittrich, the company opened a branch store at 39515 North Woodward in Bloomfield Hills in 1977.

Today, Hal Dittrich helms Dittrich Furs with his sons, Jason and Shawn. Among other things, they make sure every customer’s garment is personally inspected several times, and at least once by a Dittrich family member to ensure it is cared for properly and necessary maintenance is suggested. They’ve also put in place employee training programs that insure that each and every customer deals with a fur expert and receives a high level of service that is often hard to find in this day and age.

Dittrich Furs has grown from a second-story shop to housing one of the largest fur collections in the United States. The company provides a full range of services, including the design and manufacturing of fur garments, repairing and re-styling of older garments and state of the art cleaning and storage.

When Dittrich Furs opened its doors in 1893, Detroit’s streets were illuminated by gaslight, and we were still three years away from Charles Brady King driving the first gasoline automobile in Detroit. A lot has changed since then, but the family atmosphere and dedication to quality and craftsmanship remain the same.

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