Harry Sitilides grew up on the Greek island of Aghia Kiriaki, in a small village without electricity or a town sewer. Raised by his parents, Harry and his three older siblings, worked on the family farm to raise tobacco. Even though his father was the town manager, life was still difficult. Though they lacked money, they had love to spare. After his farm work was done, Harry and his siblings helped their neighbors with their work. Villagers helped each other, expecting nothing in return.
At just 12 years old, Harry and his brother were sent to live and attend school in nearby Kastoria where they lived in a basement, without adult supervision and barely any money. To survive, they depended on social services for money and food. During these hard times, Harry became eager to succeed and made it his mission to leave that kind of life.
Known as “the fur capital of Europe,” the city of Kastoria was to influence young Harry’s future as he observed its fur workers and their businesses. He dreamed about owning his own business someday. Mesmerized by the “New York City skyline,” and influenced by its movies and music, Harry dropped out of school and at 17 years old, moved to New York City to live with his uncle. He arrived in the Big Apple on a Saturday evening and showed up at work on Monday morning, barely giving him time to adjust to the time difference. Working in the sweatshop was a shock and not what Harry had imagined the United States to be.
Around this time, Harry discovered the Fashion Institute of New York (FIT) which gave him a volume almost as large as a telephone book and told him that he could take any class he wanted, as long as he had the money for it. This eye-opener offer prompted Harry to become a designer. Harry returned to school, received his GED and went to work at FIT. During his four years there, Harry worked full-time during the day and attended classes at night. It wasn’t easy but he continued and learned as much as he could. After four years of pattern making, designing, tailoring and grading, Harry completed his studies.
Harry first began work in the New York Fur District as an intern with George Kokkinides Furs. In the fur industry, if you worked on 7th Avenue, then you had made it. Harry eventually began to design at George Brother Furs on 7th Avenue. A couple of years later, Harry was designing for David Leinoff.
In 1985, the 26-year-old Harry was offered a job in New Britain. Harry turned it down, at first. He didn’t think it was the right choice then for him and his family. When his old work friend told him to look at the job first before turning it down, Harry went to see the place that Sunday. As soon as Harry arrived, he was amazed at the size of the building, the huge clientele and how much more it had to offer than New York City did. On a leap of faith, Harry moved his family to New Britain and began work for Connecticut Furs, Inc.
Harry dream always dreamed to own his own business. He and the owner of Connecticut Furs, Inc. agreed that Harry would work for 10 years for half of the business shares. Eventually, Harry bought the business in a partnership with his brother. They turned the company into what it is today.
Throughout his 30 years in New Britain, Harry has been very active in the community. He met local business and civic leaders and became involved in many organizations where he has made significant contributions, including the Urban League in Hartford, the Freemasons of Bloomfield, CCARC, Inc. – Supporting People with Disabilities, the New Britain Lions Club, and many more. Harry became a board member for many of these organizations. He finds once he gets involved, it’s just hard to leave. Harry also throws fashion shows to help with fundraisers. His most recent was the Friends of the Poor Fashion Show in partnership with the YMCA. Harry makes a difference and does it for all the right reasons. His generosity reflects a life growing up on a farm, where you always help your neighbors without expecting anything in return.
At 56, Harry’s dreams have come true. Not only is he a business owner but also has managed to make a life for himself with which he can be proud. Occasionally, Harry is invited to talk to business students. He tells them how he made it and has them visit the store where most are amazed at its extent. As Harry tells them, “This is the land of opportunity. If I made it, anyone can.”