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Protesters target the last downtown Portland fur shop

Posted by Joseph Rose, The Oregonian
June 06, 2008 08:43AM

 
Joel Davis/The Oregonian. A scene from one of the intense Saturday protests that ended with Schumacher Furs and Outwear shuttering its downtown Portland business.

With Schumacher Furs and Outwear gone, animal-rights activists now say they are working to drive downtown Portland's last remaining fur salon out of business.

Saturday protests led by a fledgling group called the Portland Animal Defense League outside Nicholas Ungar Furs at 1137 S.W. Yamhill St. have intensified in recent weeks. The next one is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. tomorrow.

And unlike the rancorous 15-month campaign against Schumacher's, which activists insisted was about education and outreach, the group says the prime objective this time is ridding downtown of "an outdated industry."

"Basically 20 years ago, there were about 20 full-service fur salons," said Tim Fox, an Animal Defense League spokesman. "Now downtown Portland only has one left. As the public learns the truth about the cruelty of the fur industry, I think most people will want them out too."

Unlike Greg and Linda Schumacher, who were eager to confront the protestors and talk to the press about what they saw as an unfair attack on their business on Southwest Morrison Street, Ungar Furs owner Horst Grimm declined to comment. Someone calling himself only "the manager" said, "Our general policy is not to make comments."

Sgt. Brian Schmautz, a Portland police spokesman, said the protests have yet to generate a single disturbance complaint that he knew of. "No one has come up to me and said this a problem," Schmautz said, noting that the Schumachers' aggressive reaction to demonstrators outside their store led to much of the tension there.

Among other things, demonstrators say they're protesting what they claim is Ungar's practice of selling fur from animals that have been gassed, anally electrocuted, had their necks snapped and have been skinned in inhumane ways.

Fox also contends that the store has in the past sold illicit animal pelts. As proof, he cites the $40,000 fine that Nicholas Ungar Furs paid to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2005 for allegedly selling coats and other items made from endangered or banned species, such as Alaska seals, jaguars and leopards.

Animal-rights activists have aggressively targeted the fur industry in recent years, arguing that animals suffer solely for nothing more than vanity of the rich. Although they have concerns with the meat industry's practices, many say those animals are raised and killed for food rather than just for their pelts.

Since last winter, the protests outside Nicholas Ungar Furs with signs, chants and at least one heated exchange with Grimm has grown from a handful of demonstrators to up to a few dozen every weekend.

The store was closed for the Memorial Day weekend last weekend. But a group still showed up to write "educational messages" on the sidewalk in chalk. A message on Portland's Indymedia site read: "The animals used for Ungar's unethical products do not get holidays off, and Ungar Furs will not get any Saturdays off."

At the same time, In Defense of Animals, one of the driving forces in the epic Schumachar's face-off, has decided to sit out this one.

Matt Rossell, spokesman for In Defense of Animals, said he doesn't agree with the new protest's ultimate drive-'em-out-of-business mission. "Our goal was never to shut down Schumucher's," Rossell said. "We're watching what's happening, but we felt a lot of education has already been accomplished because of the Schumacher protests. A lot of people in Portland have formed their opinions one way or another."

He also said Ungar Fur's location, away from most of downtown's shopping and heavy foot traffic, "isn't as advantageous" as Schumacher's. After the Schumacher's protests, Rossell said he intended to "create a dialogue" with Nicholas Ungar Furs. The store wasn't interested.

Rossell said the people gathering outside of Ungar Furs are an off-shot of the always-loud, sometimes-massive rallies at Schumacher's.

Fox agrees that his group was born from that experience. When those demonstrations ended with the shuttering of Schumacher's, Fox said the natural question for many activists was, "What next?"

"We felt there was a momentum coming out of Schumacher's," he said. "We wanted to take advantage of that."


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