Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Arts Building and the Push Carts

Being independent was great and being successful was even better. The money I was making at the Push Cart Program was enough for me to relocate my business from my home to a downtown location in Walker's Point. It is an old warehouse type building which was converted into spaces and were rented out to many of us local artists and crafters. I'm still in this building today.

One leather item I  started making for the Grand Avenue Push Cart was a small zippered pouch with an adjustable nylon strap. My customers told me this was an item they were looking for as they could easily adjust the strap and also conceal the small pouch under their coats. The pouch measures 6.25 inches wide and 5. inches deep and they sold very well. Ballerina pink was a very popular color and I still make and sell many of them to this day. On the inventory sheet, their number was 9 and I still call them #9's. Much shorter then calling them a 6.25 X 5 inch zippered leather pouch with an adjustable nylon strap. You think?

The Number 9's as They Look Today
Another attention to detail and a technique that increased my sales for checkbook covers, wallets and business card cases was putting free gold foil initials on these flat goods. My good friend, Dick Ivens, made this wooden cabinet and set of drawers to hold the lead type used in this process. The machine sits at the top of the cabinet and has a heat element that warms the type to 180 degrees fahrenheit. A thin gold foil was placed between the heated type and the flat leather item. A small lever brought the type in contact with the foil and leather. Customers would line up to purchase my handcrafted leather and have their initials permanently adhered. Win - Win.

Actual Handmade Wooden Cabinet Used at Grand Avenue and the Initialing Machine at Top
The Small Drawers Under the Machine Held the Lead Type.

Cabinet made by Dick Ivens

My glory days at Grand Avenue faded in the mid 1980's and I then switched to the push carts at Mayfair Mall. As long as business was good I put up with managers of the malls who hen pecked at every aspect of the business. They were concerned with how the cart looked, how much money they could make from you and even how my employees who worked the carts appeared to the public. After many years of allowing the malls to pick fly shit out of black pepper with boxing gloves on I took a another bold step and left the push cart business.

Here I Am In Front of My Push Cart at Grand Avenue - 1984

Not only was the push cart business on the rocks, so was my marriage that ended in 1987. Having visited Florida on many occasions, I took my mid-life crisis and leather goods and went all the way to Key West.
There I set up a small store and lived for the better part of a year. Rent on my studio back in Milwaukee was paid for along with my rents in Key West. I wasn't saving anything for retirement but I was having a good time and couldn't care less. Beside selling my leather goods at the small store I had in an alley that was called Pirate's Alley, I also sold them at the sunset celebration on Mallory Dock. There was a topless bar in the Pirate's Alley called the Pirate's Den and I worked as the doorman there on many occasions.
Shiver me timbers!

After a year of being away from Milwaukee I returned and dusted off the cobwebs on my studio and the machines and started cranking out leather goods again. Having learned so many manufacturing techniques at Western Leather, I was capable of making a substantial amount of quality leather goods. Turning my eye towards the art/craft fair market I dove into this new avenue of selling my products. Tupper Ware and pop up canopies made the fair circuit more viable then it ever was. If rain came the Tupper kept the goods on the ground dry and the canopies overhead finished the job off. Investments were made in trailers to haul the display and trailers to the fairs. Displays were designed, signage was made and a whole new venue was born.

Even though I was trying to stay healthy with exercising, doing aerobics and eating well, I became ill with what the doctors diagnosed as heart disease. After three angioplast's, they wanted to cut me open like a cheap suitcase and operate but I was able to regain my health through a better diet, losing weight and more exercise and hold off the surgeons scalpel. During this period in my life, I remarried and divorced a few years later.

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