I moved to NYC in 1987. Shortly after, I needed a good carry-all for my urban needs. I searched high and low for a few weeks for the perfect backpack, debating over my options; leather, fabric, canvas, plastic. I kept walking by a fantastic old-world leather shop called The Village Tannery on Bleeker Street.
The smell of leather emanating from the door every time I walked by made me stop and look in the window at the hundreds of bags, backpacks, briefcases, and handbags. I ventured in once or twice and found the selection to be overwhelming and a bit pricey for a 21 year old kid, but I couldn’t stop looking every time I walked by.
I told myself I couldn’t afford this fine craftsmanship and in the end I opted for a trendy plastic see-through backpack from Patricia Fields. I tried to convince myself that I was done with my carry needs.
A few weeks later I found myself again in front of the window at the leather shop. I began to reassess my plastic pack decision and began saving for a backpack I had spied in the dozens of options at the Village Tannery. In early 1988 I walked in and plunked down the $125 they were asking for the leather backpack I had been obsessing over. I never knew at the time what a great decision it was to become.
Over the next 23 years that backpack traveled with me around the world and back again. It has functioned as my luggage, my briefcase, and my friend. I oiled it once a year over the years and always treated it with respect. Each time I would pass by The Village Tannery I would stop in and talk about the bag and let them know it was still looking good. The last 3 times I have stopped in to show off my old friend they have tried to buy it back from me. I think they want to show off the quality to new perspective buyers. I never even ask how much they will pay me because this old friend is not for sale.
This is the backpack after 24 years of everyday use and a once-a-year oiling.
A close-up of the leather. No cracks, splits or major abrasions.
Last year I was in need of a true business carry item. I needed a simple briefcase or messenger bag that was elegant. I looked up the website for The Village Tannery and of course, they had what looked like the perfect bag. The problem was there was no price listing and I wasn’t planning on being in NYC for quite some time. I thought and thought about calling them up to inquire, but knew that their bags retailed in the $300 – $500 range now and didn’t want to spend that kind of money without seeing it in person to ensure it would satisfy my OCD. In the mean time I came across a buffalo leather briefcase/messenger bag hybrid that had a concealed compartment on the exterior for your handgun, so of course I dropped the $300 on the spot and took the bag home. I carried the briefcase for 6 months and the whole time kept looking at what I didn’t like about it, comparing it in my mind to the messenger bag I had seen on the Village Tannery website. Somewhere in those 6 months I decided the bag I had looked like something you would buy at Tommy Bahamas, and I couldn’t stand the thought. I saw a trip looming in the future to NYC and planned a walk-by at The Village Tannery when we got there, “Just to look…”
It was exactly as I had hoped it would be.
The shop hasn’t changed a bit over the years, and while the prices have adjusted to inflation, they are reasonable for the quality. The messenger bag I had seen on the website was perfect. Sturdy, simple, functional. It was $350 and the deal was sealed when the old gentleman saw me looking at the lack of closures on the bag and said, “We can put some magnetic closures on the back of the main flap and you wont even see them when it is closed.” I paid the gentleman and headed back to Oregon to wait for the bag to arrive in the mail (I saved the sales tax by mailing it home, which also gave them time to put the closures on). I panicked for a brief time over the fact that I didn’t discuss in detail the closures they were to install and was convinced it would arrive with visible grommets or stitches on the front of the bag, spoiling the simplicity. I just knew I would hate what they would do and was convinced I would have to go back to the Bahama bag. When it arrived at the house I waited for a few hours before opening it to inspect the massacre and was so happy to see that they had thought ahead and installed them in an ingenious way to where you couldn’t detect a thing from the front. I was thrilled! My search is over and I am free to move on to another obsession. I will continue to carry my old friend for my travels but will proudly carry my new friend to business meetings. I will also continue to stop by the Village Tannery whenever I am in NYC and who knows, maybe someday I will sell them back my old friend… Nah…