It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s leather man!
If you are picturing a flying piece of rawhide in a cape — well, you’re just silly.
Leatherman is none other than 83-year-old Riverbank businessman A.J. Meyers (with an ‘E’ he will remind you).
He’s bold, he’s dashing and he creates western wear from leather like a magician. He’s MacGyver meets John Wayne, but with a dazzling head of white hair — though he calls it antique blonde.
A.J. Meyers is more a character than Mickey Mouse, and he probably whistles better too.
The charismatic leatherworker opened his own shop in Riverbank 59 years ago. He moved across the street three years later and has been a staple of the community ever since, delighting customers with an extensive array of quality products sold inside of what appears to be an Old West museum.
The walls of Meyers Shoe Shop and Saddlery are even busier than the store these days, which is saying something considering the flood of belts and saddles that Meyers has been designing for the holidays.
“We already have a lot of Christmas orders for saddles and I am working on a lot of custom belts right now as well,” Meyers explained. “We usually do really well around Christmas time.”
Meyers’ custom designs create an easy way to add some special flair to a gift this time of year. His work is intricate and professional with a stunning résumé of finished product to grace the showroom in his spacious downtown shop.
And the word ‘shop’ is hardly doing it justice. The Santa Fe Street location is dominated by trinkets of all oddities from wall to wall, most given to Meyers during his nearly 60 years of operation.
He’s got to be the most organized hoarder in history.
“Look at it, it’s kind of like a museum,” Meyers said. “I have people come in just to check out the place.”
Attractions aside, Meyers draws crowds of all shapes and sizes. He said he entertains clientele from Oregon and Southern California as well as handling regular assignments from customers that live in the San Francisco Bay Area.
His customers have a chance to check out one-of-a-kind leather designs and a healthy stock of bits, spurs, belt buckles, Black Hills gold jewelry, silver smith jewelry, suspenders, tack, grooming supplies, statuary, conchos, cards and everything between.
“Let’s face it, we have got a unique shop,” Meyers said. “People come in here and simply can’t believe that we have 40 to 50 saddles to choose from.”
Meyers says ‘we’ because though he’s the world-renowned Leatherman, he still has a sidekick. That role belongs to his daughter Kathy Appling, the more technologically-savvy one of the pair. Appling will work the front and deal with customers to allow Meyers the opportunity to tinker with his toys in the back of the shop.
It’s a bit Santa Claus-ish, but a full head of ‘antique blonde’ hair doesn’t mean Meyers is ready to take over St. Nick’s job just yet.
“When I was growing up I read about a shoemaker that left milk and cookies out for elves that would fix shoes for him,” Meyers said with a laugh. “I thought they would do the job for me but it didn’t work.
“I must be doing something wrong.”
Or, based on the fact that he’s nearing six decades in business, he must be doing something right.