Earlier this week, Andrea Henderson published an article and series of photos on Syracuse.com about Middle Earth Leather, a staple of the Northside business district. The shop, lined with leather bags and jackets, counters ready with patterns, vintage sewing machines, and rolls of leather show the love and attention each product receives from this family-owned business on North Salina Street.
“While at the factory, Frank unexpectedly found his passion for custom leather making. He inherited the ability of pattern making from his mother, but had never used his talent until the day he purchased a poorly designed hat.
After recognizing his skill set, he began making his own belts and sandals. Occasionally, he would sell some of his custom items to co-workers who were looking for a new belt or a pair of shoes.
‘I never wanted to work in a factory all of my life,’ Frank said. ‘I would dream of becoming more independent.’
Frank gained an entrepreneurial spirit from his mother, Dorothy Westfall. She owned and operated her own dressmaking business in Syracuse, was a college graduate before World War II ended and was handicapped all her life, with one foot longer than the other. Her principles to continue life with every ounce of energy resonated with Frank during his early days of running his company – and certainly now, during a bleak time within the retail industry.
‘I am just trying to survive my second phase: Internet shopping,’ Frank said.
To help maintain Middle Earth Leather Works presence during the age of online shopping, his daughter, Kalley, 30, who is formally trained in graphic design, runs the company’s website and social media platforms. Not only does Kalley bring younger experience to the company, but she also assists her father with sewing, designing and selling products.
‘The Internet has the ability to have the accessibility of anywhere,’ Kalley said. ‘That is something that my dad is very shy about, only because of the amount of products we are making and being able to supply the demand.’
As generations evolve, so do the buying habits. Internet wholesalers like Amazon have the buying power to sell products at a lower rate, but often extract sales from smaller businesses that rely on the local purchasing power. In an era of accessibility and affordability, Frank cannot lower his prices to compete with larger companies who sell at lower price points.
Even though Kalley is a millennial, her mindset is like her father’s when it comes to business. While continuing to learn patternmaking and entrepreneurship, she plans to grow the company by learning how to function in every aspect of the business, whether it be how to use new equipment or how to broaden the company’s selling scope via the web.”