ST. MARIES, IdahoHere a box of coyote jaws, there a stack of buffalo ankle bones, upstairs a rack of wolverine pelts, and on the shelf, a row of deer and elk antlers.
Wal-Mart, it aint.
Actually, it is, in a way; Eidnes Furs Inc. is like the Wal-Mart of animal parts. The nearly 30-year-old companys facility, just outside of St. Maries, Idaho, is filled from floor to ceiling with merchandise, just like a Wal-Mart, and theres a wide enough selection of goods that customers who want something specific probably can get it here.
Eidnes (pronounced EYED-ness) Furs is where a Los Angeles-area prop company, for example, got the furs to create a mechanical, man-eating bear that menaced actors Anthony Hopkins and Alec Baldwin in the movie The Edge, says Lars Eidnes, the companys founder and owner. He says one of his largest customer groups is Native Americans, who buy materials for ceremonial clothing and other items used in traditional powwows, from ermine trim for headdresses to elk rawhide for drums. Interior decorators, history buffs who re-enact battles and encampments, and taxidermists who need extra materials all shop at Eidnes Furs.
They dont, however, actually come to Eidnes 8,000-square-foot building; the company conducts virtually all of its business, both wholesale and retail, via mail order and over the Internet, he says. It employs seven, including Eidnes, and its annual sales hover around the million-dollar mark, he says.
Eidnes Furs inventory is vast. In the fur category, it carries both grizzly and black bear hides, elk, ermine, blue fox, Siberian lynx, mink, muskrat, reindeer, timber wolf, and cougar, among others. He has tanned leather from deer, elk, moose, and cows; antlers and horns; sinew; bones; teeth; skulls; feathers; and tails. Eidnes even stocks a box of carp skins because, I think Im the only one in the world dumb enough to buy them, he says.
What you cant buy from Eidnes Furs is anything thats illegal to sell or own, Eidnes says.
That includes obvious items such as tiger skins, which are banned from trade by international treaty, and the feathers and claws of bald and golden eagles, which only may be used by Native Americans for religious ceremonies.
But it also could include a deer or an elk, depending on how the animal was killed. Anything thats illegally harvested, that thing is illegal to sell, Eidnes says.
Trading in illegal merchandise would pose a great risk to his business, he says: If he were to buy a hide that had been taken illegally, then sell it over the Internet to someone in another state, that would be a federal crime, subject to stiff fines or even jail time.
For that reason, he requires paperwork on every inventory purchase he makes to prove that the animal was killed legally, he says.
I think this is the second most-regulated business in the world, topped only by the pharmaceutical industry, he says. At least, he adds, It seems that way sometimes.
Steve Agte, a regional conservation officer at the Idaho Fish and Game department, in Coeur dAlene, says he deals with Eidnes frequently and hes one of the better fur buyers when it comes to fulfilling the agencys reporting requirements.
Eidnes buys about 30 percent of his inventory in the U.S., but only a small percentage of that comes from local hunters, who are allowed to sell the inedible parts of deer, elk, bears, and mountain lions, providing they have their paperwork in order, Agte says. Eidnes buys about 45 percent of his merchandise from Canada, and the rest from other countries, including Russia, Iceland, Finland, China, and Australia, he says.
Importing and exporting furs and other animal parts is a tricky business, though: One time, for example, Eidnes says he bought grizzly bear furs from a government auction house in Russia, which were shipped to Finland and from there to a tannery in Canada. On one of the forms required for shipment, someone typed in the wrong destination, Eidnes says. It was seized because one piece of paper was made out wrong. It was a clerical error but it took a year and a half to get corrected, he says.
While Eidnes wont deal in illegal products, through reproductions he has found a way to fill customer demand for at least some of those products.
In California, you cannot sell black bear claws, but anybody can buy and sell plastic ones, he says, picking up a box of the realistic fakes. Hes also got turkey feathers that have been painted to resemble eagle feathers, and plastic eagle talons.
Although some of Eidnes merchandise can cost thousands of dollars per itema grizzly bear rug can cost up to $3,500, for examplehis average order is under $100, he says.
His biggest seller by volume is tanned leather skins, he sayshe sells about 10,000 such skins a year. Furs are the second-best-selling item, he says. Although he deals in ermine and mink, very few of his furs end up on the backs of rich women. The bulk of what we sell goes for a more craft-type of purpose, for decorative uses, or for Native American religious ceremonies, he says.
He also sells about 50 to 60 bearskin rugs a year, which cost $115 per linear foot, although hes not a taxidermist. Ive done enough to know I dont want to do that for a living, he says. Instead, he contracts with a number of taxidermists to fulfill his customers requests. He also sells parts to taxidermists, such as cape skins that taxidermists use to replace damaged skins on a shoulder-mounted animal.
Eidnes Furs is a low-tech company, but thats by necessity, Eidnes says. Because every fur is different, his main job is to look at each fur and assign it a grade, which determines the price.
He also likes to create what he calls oddball items, such as a grizzly bear vest and small pouches made from the leg skin of an elk or deer, complete with the animals dew claw.
He got the latter idea from visiting museum displays of Native American artifacts, he says; at the time, he was looking for something to do with the leg skin, which otherwise would go to waste. At one museum, Lo and behold, there was a bag made out of elk legs, and Eidnes says he told himself, I can do that.
As with many of Eidnes products, Its a very limited part of the population that thinks that stuff is cool, but to people that appreciate the older-style Indian stuff, its pretty popular, he says.
Eidnes opened his business in Moscow, Idaho, in 1973, and moved it to St. Marries five years later. As a boy in Wisconsin, he had earned money for college by trapping animals, and his hobby led to his business, he says.
Now, while Eidnes Furs merchandise is undeniably exotic, Eidnes says his company is not a lot different than any businessyou buy something and sell it and hope you make a profit by the end of the year.
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