Things That Matter: Bicha Fur advertising sign
La Crosse County Historical Society

Fur is one of the oldest materials people have used for clothing. It was worn by prehistoric humans, and it continues to be used today. Furs have been worn as a necessity for warmth, for decoration and for the glamour has provided in some eras.

The first Europeans living in the upper Mississippi River valley came to trap and hunt the abundance of fur-bearing animals living there, supplying the voracious European appetite for fur during the 18th and 19th centuries. By the 1840s, the early settlers in La Crosse traded for furs from native and European trappers.

A modern form of the fur trade continues today, though the fur business has become a controversial subject.

La Crosse was home to several retail furriers over the years, the most recent being Bicha Furs, at 113 N. Third Street. Joseph Bicha joined the long-established Charles Sharna fur shop in 1915. Bicha had previously learned the craft of making fur clothing from furs as an apprentice, probably working with Sharna. By 1922, Bicha had his own shop, making and selling coats, shawls, wraps and hats for many years in his downtown location.

The mechanical sign shown here was used in Joseph Bicha’s fur shop as advertising for the proprietor’s custom-made coats. It is a black-and-gold metal box painted in the art moderne style of the 1930s and 1940s. It has a glass pane across the front and houses a small electric motor that turns a continuous hand-lettered streamer: “We specialize in custom made coats. A fur coat is the most becoming garment for any woman if designed to fit her type and personality.”

This early use of electrical advertising likely hung in the store’s window to attract potential customers.

Joseph Bicha’s son Edward began working in the store by 1950, and he was named manager in 1958. Edward continued the business until 1984, when he retired. By then, he advertised both fur and cloth coats for sale. Edward Bicha was the last retail furrier in the city.

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