Archie A. Van Elslander, who was known as “Mr. Van” and founded what became one of the largest independent furniture retailers in the United States, passed away on February 12, 2018, at the age of 87, surrounded by his family.
Born in 1930 in Detroit, Michigan, Mr. Van Elslander was the son of a Belgian immigrant. He grew up in Detroit, peddling papers and working in his father’s bar as a young boy. At age 14, he discovered his love of fashion when he took a job working at a local haberdashery, Square Menswear. After graduating from Denby High School in 1948 and serving in the U.S. Army, Mr. Van Elslander married, started a family and took a job at Gruenwald Furniture.
He opened his first store in 1959, the sole proprietor of a 4,000 square foot shop on Gratiot Avenue in East Detroit, and ultimately grew Art Van Furniture to nearly 4,000 associates and over 100 Art Van Furniture locations throughout the Midwest before selling the business in early 2017.
A pioneer retailer and master promoter, he was widely respected in the furniture industry for his creative approach to marketing. Mr. Van Elslander’s awards and recognitions are many, with his generosity and business acumen regularly acknowledged.
With a seemingly limitless capacity for giving, Mr. Van Elslander was one of Michigan’s most generous and beloved philanthropists. When Detroit’s annual Thanksgiving Day parade was in financial peril in 1990, Mr. Van Elslander made an historic donation that saved this cherished tradition. For the next 25 years, he personally rode in the parade, waving to crowds along the route.
He was a major benefactor of countless charities, including St. John Providence Health System, Focus:HOPE, Forgotten Harvest and the Capuchin Franciscan Province of St. Joseph. He leaves behind an indelible print on the hearts of many, and will be sorely missed.
Source : Frank Witsil, “Art Van Elslander, founder of Art Van Furniture, dies at 87“, Detroit Free Press, February 12, 2018.