Q: Is there a professional name or title for what you do?

A: Leathersmith. 

Q: How long have you been in this line of work?

A: Since 1968. 

Q: How did you come to do this work?

A: I was in the Merchant Marines doing underwater demolition and salvaging work, and I also did a lot of canvas work. I was looking for something to do in my free time. I apprenticed with a leather store owner in New London, Conn., for about one month. Then I learned he was selling his shop, which I bought. I also had a shop in Hawaii that I ran for about one year while a friend managed the Connecticut store for me. 

Q: How long have you been in Maine?

A: Since 1973. I used to have a tack shop in Portland but closed because the rent was too high. 

Q: Tell me about the work. 

A: When I first started in this business, I made a lot of custom (leather) items, like sandals, handbags, wallets, checkbook covers, belts and pillows. They were mostly one-of-a-kind items. There is not a lot of call for custom items now. They are expensive to make. For example, when I first started my Maine business, I could make a pair of sandals for about $18. Now (that price would be) more like $150. 

Q: Why such a dramatic price increase?

A: Mostly because of (limited local access to) materials. There are few tanneries left in Maine to speak of — actually just one that I used to get some of my materials from. It’s in Hartland. I also get leather from dealers in North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Michigan. Different companies send me swatches or samples to choose from. I use different types (grades) of leather for different (applications). For instance, when I’m doing upholstery work, I use thinner leather because it’s more supple but still strong. 

Q: What other types of work do you do?

A: Most of my work is doing repairs like replacing the handles on pocketbooks, adding zippers or snaps to leather clothing, mending upholstery and (equestrian) tack, like repairing bridles or riding crops or restoring top-stitching on a pair of shoes or boots. A lot of those repairs are done by hand or machine stitching and I add grommets, rivets, zippers, patches and snaps as needed. 

Q: What is a typical day’s work for you?

A: Today, I put new soles into a few pairs of old Indian moccasins for a mannequin. I put a new zipper into a pair of English riding boots, fixed a couple of horseback riding crops and worked on a chair cushion. Right now I’m getting ready to shorten a pair of western riding chaps. 

Q: What kinds of machines or tools are in your shop?

A: An Adler industrial sewing machine and a Singer sewing machine, from the 1940s; both are for (sewing on) leather. I’ve accumulated a lot of my equipment over the past 40 years, mostly at yard sales. And I repair most of it myself. 

Q: Do you work with other textiles or solely with leather?

A: Just leather, which I also recondition. 

Q: What does that entail? 

A: Reconditioning is working oil into the leather to add moisture back into the material to make it supple again. 

Q: Do you also clean leather goods?

A: No. Because I can’t guarantee the work. (There are too many things that could go wrong, changing the look of the piece). Though I do sell cleaning products to my customers. 

Q: What’s the turnaround time to do a job?

A: It depends on what kind of work is needed. I can put a zipper in a coat in about an hour. Hand-stitching jobs, to mend rips in a garment or upholstery, are the most time-consuming. You’ve got to add a patch behind the tear and then do top-stitching. 

Q: Do you do shoe repairs? 

A: Very minimally. Only top-stitch or hand-stitch work (to restore threadwork). I’m not a cobbler. 

Q: Do you charge by the hour or per job?

A: Per job. Every job is different (and based on the fee for various needed materials and the time involved to complete the work). For instance, putting a zipper into a coat could run anywhere from $20 to $80, depending on how the coat is made or if there is intricate stitching (on the garment, requiring duplication). 

Q: What’s the oddest custom or repair job you’ve ever done?

A: I’d rather not talk about that. 

Q: Okay, then what’s the oldest thing you’ve worked on?

A: Probably a leather plaque from the 1880s that I restored for a church in Bar Mills. I’ve had things in here that are over 100 years old, like baseball gloves. For those, I reconditioned them, made leather replacement pieces, relaced, restuffed and top-stitched them.

Q: How do you determine the price and turnaround time for a job?

A: I ask customers to bring the item in for me to take a look at. If it’s something I can fix, I give them an exact price for the job and a pickup date. Sometimes, depending on the job and my workload, I can do it while they wait. Or I’ll tell them to go grab a coffee or run an errand and come back by a specific time to pick it up. 

Q: How are payments handled?

A: By cash, check or credit card. I start with a minimum repair fee of $10.