A Craft for Generations, a Family Business – All Wrapped Up in Leather
I have had the privilege of meeting dozens, maybe even hundreds, of Amish craftsmen over the last decade or so. As the Amish population grows, farmland does not, and out of necessity, Amish people have forayed into various “cottage industries” that they can develop on a small homestead. What may have been borne out of necessity, has in some cases become a treasured pursuit.
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The Amish way of life requires leather goods, that we “English” don’t use anymore. You can’t just walk into a Walmart to buy these things, so where do the Amish go? You guessed it, among the Amish, there are leather craftsmen who, for generations, have made the things that their community needs.
A trusted, valuable, local business with a strong work ethic, that continues to perfect a time-honored craft within the Amish community and culture for what may truly be generations.
However, at some Amish workshops, it isn’t all about harness and tack. Such is the case at Forest Hill Leather Craft. Unlike the lesser-quality strips of hide, bonded together with adhesives, or synthetic knockoffs, that you might find at big box stores. This is a full-service leather “cottage industry” that uses only the finest leather hides, real 100% pure leather of unmatched quality. Forest Hill Leather Craft offers an array of items, such as briefcases, business planners, women’s handbags & carryalls, coasters, unique gift items, and much more. The main thrust of the business may be belts in almost unlimited lengths, (in stock ranging from 22 inches to 58 inches), and of course, these leather belts come available in numerous styles and colors.
Resident craftsman Isaac Stoltzfus opened the doors of Forest Hill Leather Craft after gaining 14 years of experience in working for others. This isn’t just a grumbling job for Ike and his family. No, this is obviously a passion project for them, as they create wonderfully unique pieces that last a lifetime. Just out of curiosity, I asked Ike, “Just how big a belt can you make for a custom order?” He said he’s made them up to at least 70 inches in length, but essentially, he can make a belt with almost limitless length. Forest Hill Leather Craft belts are guaranteed to “last your lifetime” so unlike cheaply mass-produced belts at impersonal big-box retailers (which are often just veneers glued together with very little actual leather involved), an expertly hand-crafted belt from Forest Hills Leather Craft will not need to be replaced every year or two. A cheap belt becomes a bit more expensive when you think how many times it will need to be replaced when compared to a lifelong purchase like a belt from Forest Hills.
The entire family is involved in one way or another, but Ike, patriarch, and founder of the business oversees all aspects of production. Assisted by his apprenticing sons, Isaac thoroughly enjoys his work and is very happy to share the finished products with the many people who come through his doors.
No matter how young his family members are, all are involved in the business, with the tiniest tots able to at least sweep the floor of the shop. Truly, the epitome of a family business. The leather shop sits in a renovated half of the barn, so while you shop, you often hear the whinnying and nickering of the horses on the other side of the barn, or maybe the crow of a rooster just outside (on my most recent visit I saw the family had a sign proclaiming all-natural, free-range brown eggs for sale.) But the shop is clean, nicely appointed, and spacious, even sporting a mirror to see how the merchandise might look on you before buying.
In early August, Ike took a three-day trip with his family, which included a tour of the leather tannery in Curwensville Pennsylvania, and a two-day leather workers Auction & Expo in Ohio. This gave Ike the opportunity to meet with suppliers of leather, hardware, and machinery, as well as present his questions and concerns. Ike closed his business for three days to go see, touch, experience, and source the best leathers and supplies available. That’s Ike’s commitment to his craft and to the quality of the product he creates. And that’s the kind of work ethic and quality that you’ll see and find when you look around the Forest Hill Leather Craft shop and feel in your hands when you inspect the wares at this off-the-beaten-path “cottage industry.” Getting there couldn’t be easier, but a word to the wise, his physical address is listed as “Bird-in-Hand” but that is indicative of a quirk of the US Postal system. His property is actually six miles north of the center of Bird-in-Hand, just a short jog north of Route 23 near the town of Leola.
The easiest way to get there? Plug 225 Forest Hill Road, Bird-in-Hand, PA 17505 into your GPS. Heading there without a GPS, take Quarry Road north off Route 23 in Leola, and then make a right on Forest Hill Road. The farm is on the right (look for their sign) and is just a short distance after you pass by the Amish One-Room School.