Life in our Foothills September 2023 – Sandhurst Leather – A warehouse filled with more than you might expect!
Published 2:59 pm Wednesday, September 13, 2023
You’re in for a surprise when you walk into Sandhurst Leather for the first time. What might grab your attention is how spacious the building is. This old building was once a warehouse and has since housed several different businesses including Openroad Coffee Roastery. The next thing you might notice is how much natural light beams through windows down both sides of the building. And then you’ll smell that leather. Equestrians will sense the quality of that smell as it will remind them of a brand-new saddle or a set of hand-made reins.
At first glance, you might think you’ve entered a museum of sorts. There are plenty of photographs capturing moments in life, an assortment of guitars, a library of books, and then you’ll meet Mark Walter, the owner. In just a couple of minutes, you’ll get the sense that he’s an animated person. And all these objects will generate a story. If Mark’s around, plan to spend some time as he’s a talker.
Mark has a thousand stories to tell and every item in the building is going to remind him of some connection he has to something else. It makes for a fascinating visit. It won’t be long before you will become lost in thought as to why you walked through those doors.
You’ll soon learn that Mark knows his business. Sandhurst Leather, on US 176 just West of Tryon, originally opened to serve the area’s equestrian community. Its original reason for being was to repair saddles and do other related work to mend and improve equestrian gear. While Mark assists with everything, his associate, Clarence Brown, is the experienced craftsman who skillfully puts back together a saddle that has served its owner well. Mark knows a good thing when he sees it. Clarence has worked with the Walter family for decades.
Mark grew up in the saddlery business. His father was the co-owner of Beval Saddlery which has been in continuous operation since 1955. Mark knows the industry and has owned saddlery companies for years. For a time he traveled the competition circuit with a fully equipped tractor-trailer filled with just about everything a competitor might need. Several years ago, he learned about the developing Tryon International Equestrian Center during some of his trips to Wellington Equestrian Center in Florida. He set his sights on Polk County and first bought the building in Tryon over a dozen years ago. Only when he convinced Clarence to join him four years ago did Sandhurst Leather consider itself open for business.
Mark Walter knows the feel of a well-made saddle firsthand. It wasn’t all that many years ago when he was a renowned rider himself. Framed photos of some of his equestrian highlights are displayed around the shop. His riding might be in the rearview mirror, but he sees a future in helping others enjoy the sport.
In addition to repairing saddles, Sandhurst Leather also makes and sells other custom leather goods such as guitar straps, purses, holsters, saddle bags and lots of belts. They also sell an assortment of other items they pick up from local craftspeople and have even invited others in to share their space including a professional potter.
Mark has a solid work ethic. He stands behind his work and is proud to say, “Our work is made in the USA and is guaranteed for life.” His dad drilled into Mark the business philosophy that, “Just because you bought it ‘right,’ doesn’t mean you sell it wrong.” With Clarence Brown’s eye for detail and commitment to making sure each stitch is right, the folks at Sandhurst Leather are proud of their work.
And then there’s Leather with Love…
Recently, John Ingrassio opened an associated leather business in Mark’s space. John’s business is called, “Leather with Love.” John knew Mark from the leather business in New York and Connecticut and jumped on the opportunity to move where the weather suited him better. John considers “belts” to be his specialty and he was in the right place at the right time when one of the coaches of the University of Georgia Equestrian Team saw some of his belts. She asked if he could stamp “Georgia” into a belt and from there the ball got rolling. Now in addition to providing belts for the University of Georgia Equestrian Team, his work has also caught the attention of the coaches for the equestrian teams at Southern Methodist College and Texas Christian University.
Recently John and Clarence have developed a braided lead that’s turning heads in the equestrian world. John says, “If you can dream it, I can craft it.” And like Mark, he’s quick to point out…it’s all made in the USA (in Tryon to be more specific) and guaranteed for life.
The two businesses complement each other and Mark and John each have their own specialties. They offer services and goods that everyone can appreciate, not just the horse crowd. And they’ll welcome you even if you just want to pretend for a while that you’re in a museum.
Sandhurst Leather and Leather with Love can be found at 687 North Trade Street in Tryon. Go by for a visit to get a true feel of the kind of work they do including repairs and fabrication. Would-be customers from out of town can ship saddles and other leather goods in need of repair to the shop. Sandhurst Leather phone is 828/ 440-1373. Phone for Leather with Love is 843/ 360-1345.