November 24, 2007


Man comes full circle with new leather shop


Photos by Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Bo Dillingham works in his leather shop, Old Man Leather at 1000 State Route 13, across from the Cortlandville Fire Station. Dillingham sells hand made sandals, belts, hand bags, and other things from leather.

Staff Reporter

CORTLANDVILLE — A Cortland native has come full circle by reopening a leather crafting business locally after decades spent traveling the world as a mechanical engineer.
In August, Cortlandville resident Bo Dillingham, 61, opened Old Man Leather at 1000 State Route 13 (Tompkins Street) across from the Cortlandville fire station.
The business sells bags, belts and sandals Dillingham has handcrafted from American cowhide. It also makes and repairs other leather items depending on what people want.
Dillingham opened Crown City Leathersmiths on the first floor of the Clocktower building at Main and Tompkins streets in Cortland in 1969 when he was a student at Syracuse University.
Leather crafting, which he learned from a friend who practiced the trade in Syracuse, was a way to put himself through school, he said.
“I was working off my college debts and stuff,” Dillingham said.
His shop was successful, he said, but he closed it in 1973 to pursue a career in mechanical engineering, upon getting a degree in that field.
He traveled all over the world, with such jobs as engineering robots that build aircraft and spacecraft, he said, but several years ago his interest in leather crafting was rekindled.
“The most fun I’ve ever had in my whole life was when I had a leather shop,” he said.
He decided to move back to Cortland, and open a shop again. He bought a house in Cortlandville across from the fire station in 2004, and spent three years completely remodeling the interior and bringing it up code.
Work undertaken includes new painting and wood paneling, setting up a work room at the south side of the building and building a double door that lets customers look into the work room as they shop.
Since Dillingham opened his shop, he has built up an inventory of products from working long hours in the workshop.
He picks out the right type of leather based on the task at hand, puts leather pieces together in a variety of ways, including small nails, wire, rivets and thread, and uses dyes and treatments, many of which he has made, on the products.
“There’s only a few places like this left in the country,” Dillingham said, noting most places that sell leather products are just distributors of mass-produced products, not crafters.
A walk around Dillingham’s shop evokes stories from the past. He has a brown bag for sale made from leather he carried around with him for 35 years, his tools are the same ones he used in his Clocktower building store, and he has photo albums of clients in all-leather outfits Dillingham and co-workers made for them at the start of the 1970s.
Steve Corey, who used to work with Dillingham at Crown City Leathersmiths, remembers the old days well.
“We did a lot of stuff for old hippies — or young hippies back then, old hippies now — and some of them are still wearing the pants they were wearing back then,” said Corey, 61, of Cortland.
Corey, who intends to work with Dillingham a few days a week once he retires from his job with the county’s buildings and grounds department in four months, said he feels he is coming full circle like Dillingham.
After traveling the country for a music career and later a construction management career, he is back to where he started, and looking forward to it.
“What made it fun is we’re close friends and our sense of humors mesh pretty well, and we got rock and roll going on the radio all day long, and doing stuff we like to do, and telling jokes and making each other laugh,” he said.
Michael Sheppard, owner of Michael Sheppard Designs in Cortlandville, also intends do to leather work at the shop a few hours a week, which he is currently learning from Dillingham, as well as market the store.
Sheppard, 60, of Cortlandville, said it has been enjoyable working under Dillingham, who has been a handyman for as long he’s known him.
“I can remember in our teen years — I think we were probably 15, 16 years old, going to look at a model T in parts in Elmira with him and his father,” he said. “I remember them buying it, and bringing it back, and he worked on that and restored that.”
John Schuhle, who used to hang out at Crown City Leathersmiths with Dillingham, bought Dillingham’s tools upon his pursuit of an engineering career and sold them back to him just recently, said he believes there’s a market for Dillingham’s products.
Not only are handcrafted leather products not to be found anywhere else in the Cortland area, at least to his knowledge, but people are starting to favor handcrafted products, said Schuhle, 54, of McGraw.
“There’s a little bit of a trend, with everything being made in China now, toward handmade stuff,” he said. “That will definitely help.”
Dillingham has regular hours Thursdays and Fridays from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. and on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. People can also stop by the store when the “open” sign is up, or call him at (607) 756-1035 to set up an appointment.




New program promotes reading

Staff Reporter

Cortland will join 126 other communities throughout the United States in promoting literacy through discussions and activities related to one of 16 books and encouraging children to read with a $7,500 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.
SUNY Cortland Professors Shelia Cohen, literacy, and Karen Stearns, English/English education, are heading up the project, called “The Big Read.” Local schools and libraries will also be involved in activities.
Stearns said she selected the book, “Fahrenheit 451,” by Ray Bradbury, from the list of 16 classic novels that also included “The Great Gatsby,” by F. Scott Fitzgerald, and “The Grapes of Wrath,” by John Steinbeck.
She said she picked the book because of its contemporary culture and theme of censorship and First Amendment rights. “The theme’s never been more frightening to me,” she said, noting that what Bradbury depicted has come true.
In the book, people are lulled into a society that accepts book burning and censorship while watching television screens that fill a wall. Published in 1953, the story follows the life of Guy Montag, a fireman whose job requires him to burns books but he then becomes dissatisfied with this society.
Stearns said she has taught the book to high school students. In this grant program, she said she would be concentrating on discussions and activities with students who will become future teachers.
“I’ve lived a book-focused life. This is very important to me,” Stearns said of the theme of the book.
The grant covers Jan. 1 through June 30, but the SUNY Cortland events will take place in March and April, Cohen and Stearns said. They are in the process of putting together a calendar.
Cohen said they would also like to set up a blog where people could discuss the book online. Stearns said they also hope to do a teleconference with Bradbury, who is not in good health. A young adult author, Chris Crutcher, who also writes about censorship, will visit and there will be book discussions downtown, she said.