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Founder of Art Van Furniture dies at 87

Art Van Elslander portrait
Art Van Furniture

The founder of Michigan-based Art Van Furniture retail chain, Archie A. Van Eslander, passed away Monday at the age of 87 from complications related to lung cancer.

A native of Detroit, Van Elslander was the son of a Belgian immigrant. He started 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 menswear store, the company said.

Van Elslander opened his first store in 1959, a 4,000-square-foot shop on Gratiot Avenue in East Detroit. That store was the seed that ultimately grew into Art Van Furniture. The company now employs nearly 4,000 people and operates more than 100 stores throughout the Midwest.

Van Elslander was “widely respected in the furniture industry for his creative approach to marketing,” the company noted in its statement.

The Van Elslanders have a long history of philanthropy and have been honored by several local organizations throughout the years for their charitable contributions and staunch community support. According to the Detroit Free Press, other charities to which Van Elslander contributed included Forgotten Harvest, which seeks to alleviate hunger in metro Detroit; Focus: HOPE, an organization committed to social justice; the Capuchin Franciscan Providence of St. Joseph, a Catholic religious order; and St. John Providence Health System.

In addition to Art Van Furniture and his philanthropy work, Van Elslander also founded the investment firm Van Eslander Capital LLC to make targeted acquisitions and investments. His son Gary Van Eslander took over as president of the firm in July.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan offered great praise for Van Eslandar, saying he will be “terribly missed and fondly remembered.” In a statement, Duggan said furniture may have been Van Elslander’s business, but Detroit had always been his heart.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder expressed his remembrance in a tweet, saying, "Art was an incredible businessman and philanthropist whose dedication to the people of Michigan will never be forgotten."