by Susan W. Showalter
When the high school student apprenticed in an Antique Alley leather shop in Nashville about fifteen years ago he had no idea that he would eventually own that shop and that his boss at that time, Bill Dillon, would be working for him (part time). Mike Kline, now owner of three leather shops, is a Brown County success story.
The new store on Van Buren Street next to the Hobnob Restaurant, formerly the location of Horse Feathers, opened in June. As I entered I was greeted with music by Crosby Stills, Nash and Young while three pleasant women worked away amid the unmistakable sight and smell of luscious leather goods—made from the real thing. Most leather goods sold in the Moonshine Leather Company stores are made on site by local craftsmen.
The thirty-four year old entrepreneur and father of five arrived for our interview carrying a large box of leather on his shoulder while divvying out instructions to various employees. He spent some time hammering on a few production pieces before we settled down into the upper level workshop for a visit.
Mike and his wife Missy established their Antique Alley business back in 1992. I also had a leather shop in the area about 20 years prior to that. Mike and I shared stories about past and present Nashville landlords and about leather and buckle suppliers we had in common. A few are still in business but Mike lamented the fact that most American tanneries are now defunct.
This former Brown County High School student attended Spurnica School from the fourth grade on while living up near Bean Blossom Creek and Fox’s Corner with his parents.
Missy and the oldest of their children, Matthew, Zachary, and Jacob, help out with the business.
In 2002 Mike created Altai Leather Designs in collaboration with Ruth Ellen Suding, also from Brown County. In January of 2005 Altai Leather Designs opened a retail location in Jerome, Arizona near the Grand Canyon and Sedona. Mike travels to Arizona every other month.
“I think people should be able to buy leather goods that are made in this country. The majority of leather works sold in the USA are made somewhere else. Most are made by the Chinese and many are made in Mexico. At our shops people can buy something unique and watch the process of making leather goods,” remarked Mike when asked about his goals.
Mike also sells his work locally in the Brown County Craft Gallery on East Main Street and at an annual retail show in Chicago. He and his ten employees make everything sold in the stores except brimmed hats and sandals. Their products include a large variety of bags and things to put into them such as wallets, checkbook covers, coin purses, key cases, tissue holders, and pouches. They also make apparel and accessories such as belts, aprons, caps, barrettes, headbands, bracelets and wristbands. Utilitarian objects include back and fanny packs, briefcases, bookmarks, shop aprons, and tool rolls. All the work is original and many items are beautifully hand tooled and dyed.
“I like the characters that live here and the natural beauty in Brown County. It is nice that I can have the stores here in town. Most towns cannot support a leather shop—you’d have to be in Chicago or New York if you’re serious.”
Mike’s businesses are dedicated to making the finest quality hand-made in the USA 100% guaranteed leather goods.
Moonshine Leather Company has an online store <www.MoonshineLeather.com> if you aren’t able to visit the stores at 38 Van Buren Street or 92 West Franklin Street in Nashville. Mike can be reached by phone at (812) 988-1326 or (800) 989-1326 or by writing to P.O. Box 1652, Nashville, IN, 47448.