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Feather shop lures fishermen, fashionistas

by: SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: KATIE WILSON - AO Feathers began with owner Aaron Ostojs love for fishing and tying flies, but he sells feathers to a variety of people including fishermen, crafters and hat makers.Aaron Ostoj was fueling a habit when he started selling his handmade flies.

As a kid, he had taught himself to tie the intricate lures that dance at the end of a fly fisherman’s line, mimicking live insects. Like the fish he cast for, Ostoj was hooked on the flies. He tied them constantly and made money selling them.

Last year he took a big plunge. He quit a long-time job with Shaver Transportation and opened AO Feathers in Olde Towne St. Helens.

There aren’t any fishing rods in Ostoj’s shop, but there are feathers, hundreds of them. They line the walls, cross-hatched with color, spotted with markings shaped like eyes, naturally and unnaturally colored. Ostoj even offers whole skins of birds for fly-tying hobbyists who spend hours on intricate, less common lures, matching right and left feathers to create mirror image patterns on both sides of a lure.

“They do it more for the art and the challenge,” Ostoj said. “That’s how they got into it. It’s why I got into it.”

He does most of his business online, but the shop space has opened the speciality products he stocks to browsers.

He can always tell which customers aren’t fishermen. They are the customers who don’t know exactly what they are looking for, who use the feathers for everything from jewelry to hats. Sometimes they even just buy a feather to have it because they think it’s pretty or interesting.

The fishermen, on the other hand, always know exactly what they’re looking for and they usually go straight to it.

But Ostoj is used to his clients’ diversity. A few years ago, when feathers were beginning to be trendy as women’s hair accessories, Ostoj tied fewer flies and made sure he was ready to meet the fashion demand. His feather contacts all over the world kept him well-stocked. He knew how to dye the feathers vibrant colors, and his feathers sold at lightning speed. The money he made in the fashion world before the trend began to peak helped him fund his current shop.

Ostoj gathers feathers from all over, from people who keep or breed specific birds with feathers used in very specific ties created by a small number of hobbyists.

“Every feather represents a person I deal with,” Ostoj said.

He has enjoyed the transition from working for someone to being his own boss, but there’s one problem: The man who used to tie flies to earn extra money and who now guides others to the materials they need is so busy he has very little time for his own craft.

“A lot of the time, I’m scrambling to get enough ties to fish with,” he said.

AO Feathers is located at 239 S. First Street. It is open Wednesday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information visit www.aofeathers.com.