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Handcrafted Simplicity

By Taylor Burnette

River City Leather offers an array of handmade leather bags and accessories online and at locations in Gallipolis and Huntington.

Erin and Aaron Buckley, the owners of River City Leather, began their business in 2011. The Buckleys moved to Gallipolis, Erin’s hometown, from Philadelphia. Aaron was in a motorcycle accident and was left unable to work.

He began an apprenticeship at a shoe repair store, where he first learned how to work with leather. Erin wanted a bag for her birthday, and Aaron made it for her with his new leatherworking skills. From there, their business bloomed, beginning in a bedroom in their house to becoming their full-time jobs.

Aaron is very heavily involved in the designs of their products. His goal for their bags was something high quality and simplistic.

“I always wanted to make just a bag that was simple,” Aaron said. “I want it to be repairable, so we offer a lifetime guarantee on our products.”

Their bags are made of oil-tan leather, Aaron said, which is the same type of hardy leather cowboy chaps are made of. For simplicity, the bags do not have liners.

“Everything has a purpose in it, it creates its own kind of style,” Aaron said. “It’s been a lot of fun, and people really liked our bags.”

Their leather comes from cattle in California and Ohio and is tanned in either Mexico or Argentina. Most of the leather is either vegetable tanned, oil tanned or chrome tanned. The leather they use has a lot of oil and wax in it, making their products water resistant.

One of their most popular products is the standard tote bag, which is very similar to the first bag Aaron made for Erin. They also offer a wide array of other products.

“The totes are usually what gets people excited about our brand,” Aaron said. “We have a full product line of sunglasses cases, key chains, all different sizes of wallets and then different pouches and clutches. We have a full product line all the way up to our briefcases and our backpacks.”

The Buckleys’ workshop and store are in a 4,000 square foot space on Second Avenue in Gallipolis. All of their bags are handmade in their workshop, where they also do additional manufacturing.

Erin, who works with marketing and social product development, said manufacturing has been somewhat of a backbone for the business. When they first started, she said, they had a large manufacturing client that gave them steady enough business to sell their own products.

“Manufacturing is really fun because it’s just new projects all the time, and it’s a lot of networking and meeting new people, which is certainly fun.” Erin said.

Amidst the pandemic, River City Leather closed very quickly, but the Buckleys have used the time to their advantage. They were planning to remodel their store for the fifth anniversary in August, but instead decided to begin now since they were already closed.

Although they experienced a drop in sales due to the pandemic, the Buckleys count themselves as very lucky. They were able to move their office home to stay with their children and were able to list all of their inventory online for sale.

Many of their customers have been extremely supportive of them during this time, Erin said.

“We have some longtime customers that have really come out and supported,” Erin said. “I think they did their Christmas shopping for this year, and next, maybe.”

River City Leather is very involved with the community surrounding the business. The Buckleys started First Fridays in Gallipolis, an event where their store and others stay open later, and a day they often choose to launch products.

For Erin, one of her favorite parts of running their business is having the freedom to stay involved with their community.

“I think my favorite part is community events and like doing the charity type of thing, like partnering with people for that.” Erin said. “It’s so nice that … if I want to give somebody bags, I can find people to do that. We’ve (also) organized events. We had two music festivals.”

River City Leather is currently closed at both locations because of the COVID-19 pandemic.