Earlier this year, I celebrated the first anniversary of my little shop on Front Street – a pretty big deal to me. Just two doors down, at 140 Front Street, Schafer Leather Store recently celebrated 150 years of business – a much bigger deal and quite an amazing milestone. Even more amazing is the fact that Schafer’s has stood in the same location since the day it opened the doors, making it an icon of Marietta business.
Step across the threshold, and you are greeted with the scent of new leather, one of my favorite smells. That scent has probably permeated the shop all its life–in 1867 Adam and Louis Schafer opened the business as a harness shop. During their service in the Civil War, they had learned to make harnesses and other leather goods so it was a natural transition. In 1884, the frame building was destroyed by a flood – not uncommon in the days before locks and dams helped regulate the river. They rebuilt on the same location using water resilient materials and constructed a building designed to survive future flooding. (When you enter the shop, you’ll notice a slight taper of the floor which helps the water run out after a flood.)
In 1895, Louis became the sole owner of the business, helped by sons Louis Peter and Frank. From that point ownership remained in the same family; when Louis died in 1925 Louis Peter became the owner. In order to survive and thrive, the store has evolved over the decades to accommodate a changing society and different customer base. In the 1930s, when the fast-growing automobile industry cut the demand for harnesses and leather goods, Louis Peter’s son Robert Louis convinced his father to add awnings and tarps to their inventory. Current owner Rob (Robert Howard) credits his grandfather for that decision which saved the business when it could have been defeated by progress.
In 1945, Robert Louis became the third-generation owner and expanded Schafer’s with luggage and handbags. His son Robert Louis Jr. became his partner in 1957 and sole owner in 1968. Seven years later, Robert Jr. bought the adjoining property and Schafer Leather Store doubled in size. He added western wear and boots, which continue to draw customers from miles around.
Rob, the fifth-generation owner, can usually be found behind the counter or on the shop floor chatting with customers. He grew up in the business, which is apparent by his knowledge about his products and the ever-changing retail industry. After 150 years, through lean times and good, wars and floods—Schafer Leather Store stands as a testament to hard work and perseverance. When asked what he appreciates about doing business in Marietta, Rob mentions the spirit of community and diversity of clientele.
I asked Rob if he could share a couple of favorite stories, and he laughingly answered that he could fill a book with stories. Some customers provide a chuckle, like the man asking for “Dali Lama” boots or the outrageous pickup lines used on the young female employees. But he became serious for a moment and told me how satisfying it feels when he can help with a custom order or special fit. “I’ve had brides cry with happiness when they find the perfect pair of boots” he shared with a smile.
As Schafer’s neighbor on Front Street, I can vouch for the store’s popularity. Many of my visitors are carrying Schafer Leather Store bags, and some will tell me just how far they’ve driven to shop there. The quality and selection of products, knowledgeable staff and friendly customer service keep people coming back year after year. Rob stays on top of trends while offering timeless classics at the same time, from boots and western clothing to jewelry and unique gift items.
What does the future hold for Schafer Leather? He couldn’t give me an answer for that, but he is sure of one thing—Schafer Leather Store will be a vital presence in downtown Marietta for years to come.