In Clarke’s early days, farmers and merchant’s traveled up the road from Tidewater to make a new beginning in this fertile land. That flow continued as people discovered the area and embraced its agricultural and equestrian traditions as well as it’s leisurely pace of life. Such was the discovery made by Wayne and Barbara Groves who opened their full service leather shop â€˜Tricks of the Trade’ in Berryville this month.
The Groves successfully operated their shop in Great Falls for thirty years but taxes and the change in demographics left their leather business floundering. “I was going to get a “job”, chuckled Wayne, a vigorous man in his sixties. “We were looking for security because of our age.” But being a leather craftsman was the only occupation Wayne had ever known aside from a youthful stint in the building trade.
Closing the shop and doing something else appeared to be the only option. Wayne’s wife Barbara recalled how fate stepped in, “The Good Lord put us here. He put people in our lives that moved us here. All of a sudden someone walked in the door and said, â€˜Hey I got a way to do this.’ And I said, â€˜All right, let’s try it’ and it just started falling into place.” Their new landlord turned out to be Jay Hillerson of Clarke County Roofing who Wayne had worked with forty years earlier.
“People who are entrepreneurs step out in faith, take a risk in doing these things and that kind of gets into your blood,” explained Wayne. “So people ask me why I’m moving to Berryville, my standard answer is, ask me in five years and I’ll tell you if it was all meant to be or just an imagination in my head to do this. But I feel very good. I feel very confident about it; just to pick up your home, pick up your business and to move it. We did it during the snowstorm of the century. Every time we loaded the truck to come to Berryville, I could have predicted the weather, â€˜It’s going to snow’. And if it wasn’t snowing in Fairfax, it was snowing when we hit that mountain. I say that we fired ourselves at the end of January without any guarantee that we would ever make another dollar in this business and it’s been about two and a half months and we’re anxious to get some income coming back in because this is our point of destination, this is what we decided upon what we would do and we had to leave the past behind and start nesting in a new area.”
There was no grand opening fanfare. The shop slowly opened it doors even as boxes were still being opened. We were going to open April 1st,” said Barbara. “Then we told everybody April Fool’s because we didn’t! We went ahead and opened that Monday, April 5th. We’ve taken in some work even.”
If you are a long-time resident of Clarke, you know the building as the former Enders Funeral Home at 101 East Main St. Today it’s subdivided into cozy commercial spaces. Tricks of the Trade Leather occupies a suite at the back divided into a sales area and a workroom fully visible from the front counter. A visitor is immediately greeted by the pungent smells of leather and the fascinating sight of all the tools necessary for the trade. The walls are a warren of custom-built shelves and cubbyholes. Hand-tools nest in holders ready for use. Vintage electric machines such as the heavy duty stitcher and the finishing machine seem at home along the wall. The effect gives the shop a quaint, lived-in vibe. Custom-made belts, sandals and moccasins are on display as well as leather hats. Nearly out of view at the back of the shop is a vintage western saddle.
In the old shop, visitors couldn’t see the workspace, but in the Berryville shop, all the work will be done in plain view which Wayne feels will be exciting if a customer wants to watch the process. “We got a nice center console table here. The design is mine. It’s based around making things flowâ€¦where you go around from one station to another and don’t have to walk ten miles a day to do it. I’ve been on my feet for 36 years,” Wayne quipped, “I used to say the Lord gave me a strong back which was good because I had a weak mindâ€¦then my back started to goâ€¦so I’m relying on the legs now.”
Wayne pondered the shop’s direction, “My feeling is we’re going to get tagged as being a tack shop and certainly we do that. For a long time we were a shoe repair store, and certainly we do that. For a while we were a hippie leather goods store way back when and we made our custom sandals. Certainly we can do that. But it branches out. Wherever leather is used in daily life, we’re attached to it in some way. That’s why we can say we’re a full service leather shop. We’re not just a tack shop or a saddle shop, or shoe repair. We’re not just a shop that can do handcrafts. We’re all of that. Whatever I see as the need, that’s where I will place my emphasis and grow.”
“We were in that blue jean generation when there was a lot of experimentation in the culture,” noted Wayne, “The arts were being influenced heavily by the change of the culture. There were leather shops that were kind of popping up.” Wayne sees that creative spirit alive in Clarke County where craftsmanship and value are still appreciated. “There’s an attraction to Berryville. I think it just appeals to an innate sense of something that is more natural, more inclined to go along with the pace of what we consider to be a comfortable lifestyle. That’s what’s drawing the artisans and the craftspeople and the musicians to Berryville. I think there’s a movement underfoot here. I think it’s very spirited. I see guitar players. I see artists and craftspeople coming here. And I think that could be the anchor for Berryville. I think Berryville has been searching for the formula of how to make Berryville productive but not get into that world of big box stores and so forth.”
In addition to the equestrian community and the biker crowd who also use fine leather products, Barbara noted that many of their customers are part of the Renaissance Fair scene. A lot of â€˜Rennies’ make their own. They’ll come in and buy leather and tools and materials.”
“For that period of historical recreation,” explained Wayne, “you can just about do anything if it’s rough or crude and it fits in because that’s pretty much the way it was in those days even though I contend that the craftspeople in those days were probably very proficient at what they did and probably had a good eye for detail because lifestyles didn’t move that fast back then. They had time to sit down and craft something that had both the practical and the artistic…and that’s what a craftsman does; he utilizes art and he utilizes mechanics. I’ve always said this, that I fall in the middle because my mother was an artist and my father was mechanical and a craftsman utilizes both. So I think I’m very fortunate I found something to work in that represents my gifts. For a position like this there’s really no retirement. I call it â€˜refirement’ and that’s what we’re doing in Berryville, we’re refiring here. It’s a leap of faith at this age.”
Barbara summed it up nicely, “Just call us Abraham and Sarahâ€¦just a little different.”
Tricks of the Trade:
101 East Main St.
Berryville, VA 22611
Shoe and Boot Repair / Custom Belts / Handbags / Luggage / Accessory Repair / Tack / Saddle / Harness Repair / Blankets / Pet Collars / Leather Garment Work.