Richard Swartz, Mano Swartz Furs, Maryland
Richard Swartz is president of Mano Swartz Furs, in Maryland. Mano Swartz was founded in 1889 by his great-grandfather, Mano "Papa" Swartz, and is the oldest furrier in the US. Through the years, Mano Swartz has battled its way through the Great Depression, two recessions (the 1992 recession led to the business closing for a year), civil-rights opposition (in the 1950s, the store opened its doors to African-Americans), and the wrath of animal-rights activists. But Mano Swartz is still going strong, selling furs, leathers and shearlings and restyling hundreds of coats and storing thousands of fur items in a climate-controlled warehouse. Today, Mano Swartz is one of just four fur retailers remaining in Baltimore, down from a peak of 50 or 60. Loyal customers have included talk-show host Oprah Winfrey, Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, Maryland Gov. William Donald Schaefer, and Baltimore Colts' quarterback Johnny Unitas. Mano Swartz’s story began in the late 19th century when Papa worked as a forester in the Hungarian town of Kishvarda. “My great-grandfather lived in a typical European place where 100 families had all the money, and there was no middle class,” says Richard. “The government said, ‘What are we going to do with all these [poor] people?’ So they put them in the military for life.” To escape a lifetime of military service, Mano emigrated to New York City. Like many other Jewish immigrants of the time, he got into the fur business, eventually opening his eponymous store in Baltimore. In the decades since, running of the business has been passed from generation to generation.