Leather goods custom designed at Z Saddlery in Bowlus

The retail and repair shop is not just for people with horses

By Tina Snell, Staff Writer

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When customers walk into Z Saddlery and Leather in Bowlus, they smell the new leather immediately. What they see are leather items everywhere. And the inventory is so much more than saddles and tack.

Owned and operated by Richard and Sharon Zabinski, Z Saddlery does sell both new and used saddles. They also sell wallets, bracelets, holsters and gun slings, can coolers, checkbook covers, vests, moccasins and belts. While exploring the store, customers may find picture frames, purses, dice boxes, western jewelry, cell phone holders and more.

Richard, left, and Sharon Zabinski own and operate Z Saddlery in Bowlus, where they custom make all manner of leather items.

The neighborhood saddlery shop is not just for horse owners any longer.

Most of the Z Saddlery’s inventory is cut, tooled and sewn right in the Zabinskis’ shop.

“We are the only tack and leather business with a store front in Morrison County,” said Richard. “While our saddles are not made here, just about everything else is.”

The Zabinskis buy the natural leather hides, mostly from cattle, but they do work with other animal leathers, by weight, or thickness. Different pieces require different thicknesses.

“Wallets are made from a lighter hide and a dice box would be made with thicker leather,” said Sharon.

The Zabinskis hand cut the pieces, following different-sized patterns, then they plan the design, or decorative imprint. The design can be one of theirs or be custom-made from a picture or drawing brought in by a customer.

“I am able to duplicate any design,” said Sharon. “Some designs, such as the basket weave, can take days or weeks to stamp, burn or etch into the leather.”

The piece is then dyed, which brings out the tooling.

“A light film of oil is applied to soften and preserve the leather,” said Richard.

Items designed by Sharon Zabinski and sold at Z Saddlery and Leather in Bowlus include wallets, checkbook covers and dice boxes, top picture, and purses. The lighter piece of leather has yet to be formed or dyed.

From that point, the piece is formed into the desired shape and clamped together if sewing is necessary. After that, The edges are rounded and finished to be softer to the touch with either a specialty dowel or deer antlers.

An optional glaze is added to the finished product for a protective glossy finish.

Not only will Z Saddlery custom design any item, they will match the same design with other items.

“We have sold belts and cell phone holders that match. Or vests and saddles,” said Sharon. “People bring in a design they like, and we can apply that to any leather item.

Richard said the normal consumer may find it hard to tell the difference between good quality leather and pieces that will wear out faster. He said the rule of thumb is to make sure it’s made in the U.S.A.

“Thinner leather will wear out faster,” he said. “But, the quality of tanning also makes a difference and the process differs from country to country. A person needs to trust their retailer.”

Richard said so many people come in looking for a belt that will last longer than a few years. He has just the belts for them.

Z Saddlery also does repair work on worn out pieces. They clean, repair and oil old pieces to look almost like new.

The Zabinskis got into the business just after they married. Sharon loved to ride horses, both for recreation and for competition. Richard presented her with a quality bridle when they were dating,  handmade by Theodore Borgheink in Randall, and she was hooked.

“I was not used to such quality and it really got me interested in the art,” she said.

When Borgheink wanted to retire in 1999, the Zabinskis jumped at the chance to purchase his business. Sharon studied under him for about six months, then purchased his inventory and machinery.

“Borgheink did not do any carving or stamping. He did not do any custom work,” said Sharon. “The carving and designs were my idea and it’s something I’ve perfected over the years.”

For 11 years, the Zabinskis worked out of their home on a part-time basis and opened the store in March 2010.

“I always dreamed of offering a full line of leather goods,” said Richard. “We plan to build our inventory.”

For more information, call (320) 584-5948, go to http://zsaddleryandleather.webs.com or find them on Facebook at Z Saddlery and Leather.

The shop is open Monday – Friday from 9:30 a.m. – 2 p.m. and Saturdays from 9:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.