HomeMade is a video series produced by the Johnson City Press highlighting people in our region who still create, and do what they love for a living. (The story below is edited from from John Thompson’s JCP article from October 2017.)
There was a time when a belt didn't wear out, it just got better with age. There was a time when bags and cases were made of quality leather, not vinyl and not plastic.
That time of quality leather craftsmanship has returned to downtown Elizabethton, at Doe River Leather Works, 505 E. E St.
A leather repair expert and cobbler, Todd Hughes has worked in leather since age 15 in Dayton, Ohio.
"I started out co-oping as a freshman in high school, where I would go to school for half a day and work a half day in the leather shop. I worked at Helms Shoe and Luggage Repair."
For four years, until he graduated from high school, Hughes kept working at Helms. He stayed with the company after graduation and worked as an apprentice. After completion of his apprenticeship, Hughes moved to Boca Raton, Fla., where he continued as a leather craftsman for the next 20 years. There, he not only repaired and made leather goods for retail customers, but also repaired leather for many high-end stores, such as Neiman-Marcus.
Hughes also worked as a craftsman in Seattle and at a shop on State of Franklin Road in Johnson City. He came to Tennessee to be close to his brother.
Doe River Leather Works takes pride in making quality repairs to all sorts of shoes and boots. That includes cowboy boots, dance shoes and specialty and sports shoes.
But Doe River Leather Works is much more than just a cobbler shop. That can be seen by the types of garments in the shop awaiting repairs. Among the fine quality articles was a mink coat.
Hughes also handcrafts belts, wallets, holsters and sheaths and clothing items. He also repairs all sorts of objects made with leather, such as binocular cases and straps for cameras. He does a variety of hand and machine sewing, using an Adler and other classic sewing machines and equipment.
The shop can also do several other repairs, such as repairing and cleaning luggage, repairing horse saddles, re-lacing baseball gloves, fixing backpacks and sticking purses.
The shop is open Monday 8:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., and Tuesday through Saturday from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. For more information, call 423-518-1250.