In pursuit of leather things

Written and Photos by Anna Millar

Nearly 13 years ago, Aaron and Erin Buckley set out to start their own leather-working business. Aaron had been stuck inside due to a motorcycle injury and was looking for something to occupy his time, he says.    

It all began at a local shoe repair shop, where Aaron worked part time to pass the days while recovering. He spent plenty of time enjoying the craft as a hobby, creating a genuine leather tote bag for his wife, Erin, as a birthday gift; however, it was never something they planned to turn into a career.    

Much to their surprise, when they posted pictures of the bag, friends and others began reaching out to see if Aaron would be willing to craft one for them as well, kickstarting their business.    

Aaron left his comfortable office job, deciding to live with Erin’s parents while they worked to launch their retail store, Erin says. Beginning with online-only sales, the two crafted their goods in a garage, the only space available to them at the time.

“It just spiraled out of control; like slowly, but surely, ended up being his full-time job and a couple years later, we had the retail store open,” Erin says. “We had a baby, bought a house, and he quit his job, like all at the same time, to start doing this full time, which, like, at the time, seemed normal … but now, looking back, I would never suggest that.”   

Eventually, the business, River City Leather, was doing well enough for the Buckleys to open a brick-and-mortar location in Gallipolis where the shoe repair store Aaron started out in had previously been located. The store was doing well, Erin says.  

However, the COVID-19 pandemic hit River City hard; following the government-ordered shutdowns of stores all over the country, River City never saw a pick-up in patronage when they opened back up, Aaron says. Luckily, retail was not their only source of revenue; River City was also working as a manufacturer for a few clients, he says.    

“We had a really big opportunity in 2021 to take on 30-plus manufacturing clients from another manufacturer who was basically shutting that part of their company down,” Aaron says.   

This prompted a shift in focus for the business — from retail to manufacturing.    

The Buckleys chose to close their physical retail location and moved to a much larger space to continue working out the manufacturing side of their interests.     

As a manufacturer, River City creates a variety of products for vendors across the country; many of which are made from leather, its original focus, but its products are not limited to only leather-based materials. River City now works with vinyl sheeting, ink printing, coated nylon and more, depending on client needs.    

River City recently chose to invest $147,800 into its manufacturing facility in collaboration with JobsOhio, Ohio Southeast Economic Development (OhioSE), Gallia County Economic Development, and the University of Rio Grande and Rio Grande Community College. $50,000 of this investment comes from a JobsOhio grant which OhioSE helped the Buckleys apply for.    

The Buckleys purchased a new piece of equipment using the funds to help make their operations as efficient as possible, Erin says. The new machine projects the patterns of pieces and cuts from the large sheet of leather or vinyl.    

This will significantly boost River City’s order capacity and reduce the waste from each project, Aaron says.  

The machine can lay each pattern piece as close as possible to each other, eliminating a large portion of the waste. Because the machine cuts the leather itself, River City will be able to produce many more products in less time, Erin says.   

The Buckleys are thrilled to put their new equipment into regular use and continue their foray into the world of manufacturing. As they continue their manufacturing journey, however, River City does still run a small, online retail store.    

Manufacturers and customers can find a plethora of information on River City Leather’s website, whether looking for a new leather bag or a custom piece.