Art Van Elslander, founder of furniture chain, dies at 87
WARREN, Mich. (AP) — Archie “Art” Van Elslander, the founder of Art Van Furniture and a major Detroit-area philanthropist who is credited with saving the city’s annual Thanksgiving parade, died Monday, his family said. He was 87.
Van Elslander, who was known as Art Van, opened his first store in 1959 in East Detroit, now called Eastpointe. There are more than 100 stores in the Midwest, with more than half of them in Michigan. The business was sold last year to Thomas H. Lee Partners, a Boston private equity firm.
Company spokeswoman Diane Charles said Van Elslander had cancer.
“Boy, this is such a tough loss. We were so lucky to have Art in our lives,” said Tony Michaels, president of The Parade Company, which produces the Thanksgiving parade.
After more than 60 years, the parade’s finances were failing in 1990 when Van Elslander stepped forward with a $200,000 check. He would ride down Woodward Avenue and wave to crowds from a car. The company became a regular sponsor of the parade, which draws tens of thousands of people to downtown Detroit.
“It’s probably one of the most gratifying things I’ve ever done,” Van Elslander, the son of a Belgian tavern owner, said in 2015. “Because when you see the lives that you’ve been able to affect, it’s pretty cool.”
In December, he said he was donating $20 million to expand the Solanus Casey Center in Detroit, named for a Roman Catholic priest who is on a path to sainthood. A cancer center at St. John Hospital is named for Van Elslander. He also supported many other charities.