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Burnished in leather

New Tandy Leather retail store fills strong niche for crafters west of Portland

Photo Credit: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Tana Flanigan, manager of the new Tandy Leather retail outlet on Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway, enjoys helping customers develop their leather crafting projects. As manager of the new Tandy Leather retail outlet in Beaverton, Tana Flanigan is amused when someone tries to remind her that leather working is a “dying art.”

“They’ll say, ‘Oh, you’re in leather,’” she said, adopting a tone that mixes sympathy and condescension. “I have to say, ‘No, it’s not a dying art. How did you fasten your pants? Have you looked at the seats in your car?’”

If anything, Flanigan, who worked at Tandy’s Northeast Portland location for three years, believes leather made a resurgence during the Great Recession and its aftermath. More people got into leather crafting as a way to earn a living, while also saving money and maintaining basic laws of supply and demand.

“A lot of those (crafters) found out they had to turn their hobby into keeping a roof over their head,” she said. “They’re not working for ‘The Man’ anymore. A lot of people in that time period became our regular customers, and our business is thriving.”

The Fort Worth, Texas-based Tandy Leather, which distributes leather and leather-making products through its 29 factory stores and 80 retail stores in 37 states, opened a Beaverton store at 10195 S.W. Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway, just east of the Amish Traditions Furniture store, on Nov. 17. The company’s broad product line focuses on leather, leather-working tools, buckles and belt adornments, dyes and finishes, saddle and tack hardware, and do-it-yourself kits for items ranging from wallets and satchels to gun holsters and saddles.

Photo Credit: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Keith Justus, salesman at the new Tandy Leather retail store in Beaverton, demonstrates how to tamp leather on a stencil, one of many do-it-yourself crafts the store offers.“There is no ‘typical customer,’” Flanigan noted, mentioning that a purse maker and a woman who makes armor, holsters and uniforms for Society for Creative Anachronism events had been in that morning. “You just never know who’s going to come in. You can guess when you see what kind of car is coming. When it’s a big motor home, it’s almost always related to furniture.”

Classes and workshops will be available at the Beaverton store beginning in January.

“We’ll have them at least twice a month, and a project group once a month,” Flanigan says. “No matter what skill level you’re on, you can teach a class or take a class. We’re here to help them. You can bring in any project, and we’ll guide you in the right direction.”

Tandy, which has operated its Northeast Portland store for decades, found Central Beaverton an ideal location to serve a diverse range of urban as well as more rural-based customers between here and the Oregon coast.

“Out in this direction, past Beaverton and the farming areas, there are a lot of people who are not necessarily cowboys, but do need leather strapping, buckles, conceal-and-carry (gun) holsters,” Flanigan said. “We have a lot of people who build their own and make their own. Oregon as a whole is kind of one of those states anyways. We’re kind of a make-your-own, build-your-own-from-your-imagination state.”

The popularity of repurposing aging or out-of-date items also contributes to Tandy’s local vitality in the area.

“People buy used bicycles where the seats are garbage, so they’ll make a new saddle and redo a leather bicycle seat,” Flanigan said. “They may never shop with us again, but we take pride in the uniqueness of each item.”

Beaverton resident Jaimi Davis, who’s made a living as a full-time leatherworker from her home for two years, is thrilled by Tandy’s decision to locate near where she lives.

“I’m probably going to be in there once a week,” she said, noting she’s “seen plenty” of Tandy locations in her recreational vehicle travels across the U.S. “I’m psyched for the new Beaverton store. The layout is beautiful. I love the bins and the organization of it, and it doesn’t hurt that it’s only two miles from my house.”

Flanigan’s knowledge and vivaciousness, she noted, makes the visits even better.

“Whether I go in to get one thing, two things or no things, she always gets me to buy more,” Davis said. “We can spend a good hour just sitting around and chatting. She’s an awesome people person and a great salesman.”

Davis, who is active in the Society for Creative Anachronism and Live Action Role Playing organizations, regularly seeks from Tandy the raw materials to make pouches, belts, shoulder armor, gun holsters, leather plate armor and other accessories.

“I think everybody should become a leather worker,” Davis said. “It’s so easy, and it’s such a great craft. Everyone can make a belt, and everyone can make a wallet. And you can get everything you need at Tandy, which is why I love it.”Photo Credit: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - The new Tandy Leather retail store on Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway offers a range of accessories to help belts and other leather clothing items come to life.

While it may be difficult to convince some that a craft as timeless as leather working can thrive in an age of smartphones and tweeting, Flanigan is confident there are plenty of people out there who want to do more with their digits than tap on a screen.

“The number of do-it-yourself craftspeople is growing, which is wonderful,” she said. “It’s not just a business, but a state of mind. It makes you feel empowered that you can do something on your own.”

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