Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Beginning

My name is Bill Odbert and I have been a leather crafter since the late 1960's.

It was in 1967, the summer of love, when I fell in love with leather working. Just before falling in love, I was experimenting with making metal smoking pipes out of small brass bells and copper piping. A friend named Dennis Blankenheim showed me a leather belt he had made. Dennis and another young guy had started a shop downtown called Three Penny Farthing and they were making small leather items. I was intrigued with the belt and Dennis was inspired with my metal pipes. We decided to exchange knowledge and some materials. I received a thick piece of leather from him that was perfect for making a belt. I found several copper bullrings at the old National Hardware Store on Third Street. These rings were used to control bulls by being placed in their nose. The rings were hinged so they could be separated and then pierced into the bulls nose. To the bull, they probably were painful but to me they were the perfect rings for my cinch belt. At the old National Hardware Store, you could find just about anything and I was able score some copper burr rivets that allowed me to secure my shiny copper rings to the belt. A quick trim of the leather end and I was sporting a stylish new belt. My leather love and career had begun.

My girlfriend at that time was Christine Young and her best friend was Ann Holzhauer. Ann's boyfriend was a young guy named Ron Raffey from Minneapolis that came to the east side of Milwaukee and opened a head shop on east Irving Place. He called it Geezenstachs. I'm not sure why he called it that but the store was so groovy to our times. He sold incense, rolling papers, psychedelic posters and clothes for us hippies. Ron saw my leather belt and asked if I could make leather bracelets or watchbands for the store. I was delighted to take him up on his offer. Needing a better source of leather and material I turned to the yellow pages and let my fingers do the walking. I found an actual leather craft supply store on Mitchell Street, called Tandy's. It was perfect. I had a source and I had a market place for my leatherwork. I set out to score some more leather, rivets, rings and leather dye. I read every brochure and book they had on leather working. Before long I had made up an assortment of bracelets and watchbands. The store was selling them as fast as I could make them. My love and career was blooming.

Towards the end of 1967, a small shoe repair shop became available on Brady Street. Ron asked if I wanted to become partners and start a shop. We called it One If By Land. The elderly shoe repairman was Armenian and spoke with a heavy accent. He wanted to teach me how to repair shoes and he couldn't understand why that didn't interest me. He showed me how to operate the small patch machine he used to repair the uppers on shoes. He also taught me how to use the big straight needle stitcher that sewed the soles to the shoes. Ron and I covered the old green walls of the shop with old wood and took up the linoleum floor to expose a beautiful birds eye maple floor. We hung up posters, sold incense and I made leather items. Simple items at first but I quickly got better. The old Armenian just shook his head in disbelief. He was retiring but wasn't convinced we could make a living by selling new stuff. Here is a picture of the actual sign that hung in front of our new store.

The name of the store was not my idea but Ron Raffey's.
I eventually changed it to The Leather Shop.

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