Making A Vision A Reality
Photos | Emma Highfill, Rose Wheat Photography
On a recent first Friday, Stutzman Leather Shoppe buzzed with customers browsing and visiting in the sunlit store. Owner Steve Stutzman sat near the front window, greeting customers, while his wife and co-owner, Rachel, worked a counter near the back. One couple spent time trying on hats, including a steampunk style fedora, while another customer asked Rachel for information about leather repair. A little more than three years into business in NOTO, the store is clearly a hit with the First Friday crowd.
Steve and Rachel Stutzman had a vision for a specialty leather store when they visited NOTO to look at rental space back in 2015. Steve had been a manager and buyer for Hillmer’s Luggage and Leather for a number of years and really enjoyed the work. When Rachel and Steve decided to go into business on their own, filling the niche left when Hillmer’s closed in 2009 seemed like a natural choice.
“We thought Topeka could use a good luggage and leather goods store again,” Rachel said.
The couple began looking for a location for their specialty leather store right around the same time that the NOTO Arts & Entertainment District was really starting to take off, and they felt like their store would be a good fit. The rent was much less than other areas of town for a similar space, too, so they made the leap and chose to open their shop at 840 N Kansas Avenue.
Before the Stutzmans could open their store, they had to get the building ready.
“Our store was formerly a bar,” Rachel said, “so besides cleaning the interior, we had to remove an incredible number of nails, screws, staples and tape from the walls, as well as the drink rail and foot railing that ran along the length of the old bar counter.”
Stutzman Leather Shoppe, which opened in November 2015, immediately filled a need in Northeast Kansas for quality leather goods and expertise. And while online shopping is undercutting some brick and mortar businesses, the Stutzmans believe that it is best to purchase leather in person.
“Our store is a place to see, touch and smell luggage and leather goods,” Steve said. “Our inventory includes jackets, vests, chaps, hats, wallets, purses, a variety of brief bags, padfolios, luggage and travel accessories. It’s worth a trip to the store to experience our products that can, with care, last a lifetime.”
For the Stutzmans, owning their own business has been rewarding. Steve coordinates the purchasing and advertising, and both run the day-to-day operations. They enjoy meeting new people and helping them discover well made products. At times, though, they find that people still think of North Topeka as an area of town to avoid. The Stutzmans, like many other NOTO business owners, find themselves encouraging people to come and see the thriving district for themselves.
“We expect to see continued growth and engaging activities up here,” Rachel said. “We are excited to be part of it and watch }developments unfold around us.”