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Leather goods on the Square bring Wild West to Ohio

Leather goods on the Square bring Wild West to Ohio

By Claire Naughton

Take a walk down Middle Path and there is one material that is everywhere. No, it’s not gravel ラ it’s leather. Leather backpacks, leather jackets, leather purses, leather boots; all are Kenyon fashion staples. Leather lovers at Kenyon will be happy to learn they don’t have to go all the way to Columbus for this fashion find. They can venture to Down Home Leather, a store in Mount Vernon specializing in “clean, straight-forward and functional leather” goods.

The fresh aroma of soft leather and cool, dim lighting welcomes me as I walk into Down Home Leather at 9 Main Street in Mount Vernon. From behind the register, co-Owner Carol Wagoner greets me politely and tells me her mother will arrive shortly.

Taking the opportunity to browse the shop, I drift amongst the wide assortment of leather products, which includes everything from large over-the-shoulder bags to wallets, belts, backpacks and hair clips. A customer favorite is a leather mouse key-chain that has a zipped pouch. If crafting is more your thing, Down Home Leather also offers large quantities of leather scraps that average three dollars per bag. Each good is tagged with a simple, round price sticker, and every table, rack and wall is organized to amplify the homey atmosphere. Behind a workstation at the back of the store, numerous small birds chirp from cages that have been integrated into the interior design in such a way so as to enhance the modest, earthy aura of the space.

Co-owner Laurel Wagoner, an elderly woman with a kind face, greets me softly and ushers me onto a stool next to the counter. As we begin chatting, I learn that Down Home Leather is more than just a local boutique: it’s a family business passed down through generations of Wagoners. E. Wagoner, a saddle-maker from the 1880’s whose saddles may still be found in service today, was the original leather worker in the family. Today, Laurel Wagoner and her husband Duke Wagoner are the sixth generation to work with leather.

Born and raised in Mount Vernon, Wagoner said she and her husband, also a native of Mount Vernon, decided to open their own leather shop in 1969 to continue the family legacy. Together with their three children and other family members, the business produces entirely handmade, hand-tooled leather goods. With such a deep-rooted establishment, it’s unsurprising that their goods have come to be known as “Down Home Classics.”

“It’s pretty nice,” Wagoner said. “[My family is] always there when I need help, and [I work] mostly as a saleswoman. We’ve been situated here for 44 years now, and it’s been wonderful.”

With Laurel Wagoner taking point as saleswoman upstairs, the seven rooms downstairs provide ample space to process the roughly 70 orders a month Down Home receives.

“All of our leather comes locally, and we make our goods right downstairs,” Laurel Wagoner said. “It’s mostly cows, but some pig hide, too. We do custom items, leather repair work and also participate in fine art and craft shows to build up our customer base. All of our customers are wonderful.”

Carol Wagoner emphasized the intimacy of working with her family on a daily basis. “The family environment is nice,” she said.

Located right on the Public Square in downtown Mount Vernon, Down Home Leather offers Kenyon students both the opportunity to peruse and fashionably profit from a family business specifically designed to cater to the community. It is open Monday to Saturday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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