Almost every small town has at least one store, shop, or restaurant that is unique. It may be a family bakery that has existed for generations or a clothing store that sells designer creations made by the owner. Whatever the type, these remarkable one-of-a-kind businesses give us our rich culture and history and make exploring small towns an adventure. One such place in Ramseur is a business called Zack White Leather Company. Once you enter the doors of their modern building located at 809 Moffitt Street, it is like a step back in time. The smell of leather, rich and strong, floods the shop. You are welcomed by a friendly black Labrador retriever named Jasmine who is the official store greeter. Shelves are lined with dyes and finishes of all sorts and behind the long glass counter are racks of small drawers filled with hundreds of different tools used for carving and stamping leather. Further into the store are high shelves filled with piles of tanned hides. Hanging from the stores’ second level are huge hides of hair on cow, goat’ elk, and bison that are hung from the railing, giving the store a rustic appeal. To the novice, the huge variety of leather hides is quite overwhelming. Only in a very few places in the entire country can you find such a variety of leather hides for sale. How did a company like this find its way to a small town like Ramseur?
Zack White Leather Company has been a Ramseur business since it was moved here back in 1984 from its original location in Raleigh. Until 2003, the business was located at the corner of Liberty and Main streets in downtown Ramseur. For many years it was a central attraction for the downtown with a Civil War cannon mounted on top of the building. In 2003, the business moved to its current location on Moffitt Street alongside Cox Home Center, which is owned by the same owners. The history of a store like Zack White is interesting as well as the man for whom the business draws its name.
The leather findings business is an old business that has its beginnings in the shoe trade. The Company originally was referred to as a “findings company”. The term “findings”, which is also used in the jewelry trade, originated in Europe many years ago when craftsmen had difficulty locating the items they needed. These people became known and “finders” and the material they found was referred to as “findings”, which is a convenient way to cover a wide variety of items. Today, with the availability of the internet, almost everyone has the ability to search for items they are needing and companies calling themselves finders are a relic of the past. At one time the leather industry was the largest industry in America, with US Leather being the largest corporation in1901. Even as late as the 1960’s, there were dozens of shoe repair shops and leather stores scattered in every county. Zack White Leather Co used to employ salesman that had designated routes and serviced stores from the Tidewater region of Virginia to Charleston, SC, and up to the piedmont section of North Carolina. Back then, companies stayed in their own “territories”. Zack White had the eastern portion of NC, and other companies had their own territories. Southern Leather concentrated in SC and up to the Charlotte area, JH Cook & Sons had the western part of NC and Acme General the southern part of Virginia. Today, with the advent of the internet, the days of having a “territory” are over. The days of traveling salesmen are over and the Company markets their products through several websites which makes their products and services available to a broad range of customers. Zack White Leather Co ships products both domestic and international. Zack White Leather Company is one of only a handful of companies still in existence where you can purchase the wide variety of items used in the craft, tack, shoe, and leather trades, and the products are actually stocked where customers can come in and browse the inventory. The store is so unique, that people will travel hundreds of miles just to visit the store. In one case, and customer brought his whole family from Maine down to Asheboro, and while the wife and kids toured the NC Zoo, the father and son spent the day at Zack White shopping. Customers are considered “local” if they live within a 300-mile radius of the store and many choose to drive the distance so they can feel and examine the leather before purchase. Many customers will tell you they come to the store so they can talk with Zack and learn from his knowledge of the trade or get his advice on what purchase to make. Actually, Zack has long been gone from the business that bears his name.
Zack White was employed by this company when he got out of high school and was transferred to their Raleigh branch in 1939. He began as a salesman and traveled one of the established routes that ran to Wilmington down to Charleston. Back then a salesman was required to pay his own way when on the road. Back before WW11, hotel bills and meals for a week’s travel averaged less than $15.00. Small town hotels usually were no more than $1.25 a night and the most expensive meal you could buy was a T-bone steak, which cost 75 cents, with a 5 cent tip (10 cents if you were a big spender), Zack was able to save up enough money to purchase the business. In 1954, Zack took a gamble and built a new building next to the train track on Wake Forest Road in Raleigh. The road soon became a major business highway and Zack’s leather business prospered. It was not long before styles and trends began to change to more of a “throw-away” economy, and people repaired their shoes less and less. So to keep up with the ever-changing market, Zack diversified into the leathercraft trade and began stocking and selling tack items along with high-end briefcases to the executives in Raleigh. As the shoe business continued to decline, the business continued to diversify and when Zack reached the age of 70, he sold out to one of his longtime customers who moved the business to Ramseur in 1984. Zack was a former president of the National Association of Shoe Finders and on their board of directors for several years. The business continued to use the Zack White name because of the established reputation and recognition it had within the leather industry and the loyal following of crafters who chose to purchase their products from the company.
To reach a more diversified customer base, the business started to manufacture a line of belts and finished goods. Today, the manufacturing and production part of the business supplies products to a wide variety of businesses that, in turn, sell in retail stores or at craft shows. They produce many “confined” products for other companies that sell the products through their own name or trademark. You may purchase a belt or leather item for other stores and never know that it was originally manufactured in Ramseur. The main retail line currently sold by Zack White Leather Company is “Maxwell-Leigh Creations”. This line of belts, handbags, and fashion items are sold primarily over the internet thru ESTY and in select stores and are advertised in trade publications and magazines such as Our State. They also produce a line of canine collars and leashes under five different style brands and are the official dealer for Cobra Leather Working Equipment for the southeast US.
The increase in retail customers that visit the store can also be attributed to the wide range of craft items that are offered. Handmade jewelry and pottery items by WT Cox are available for sale. Customers can have custom knife sheaths or holsters made to order, also repair services are offered for a wide variety of leather items, including ladies’ handbags. The company also sells a huge variety of motorcycle apparel, including vests, chaps, jackets, and accessories. The MC apparel is not manufactured by the company, but many items can be ordered custom-made. The backlog for custom make items can be several months, but the wait is usually worth it.
Zack White Leather Co. illustrates the unique, one-of-a-kind experience that can be had when exploring small towns. The personal attention and unique products that visitors witness when visiting the store are just some examples of the hidden treasures that await travelers who take the time to explore the small towns of North Carolina. There is no better place to start exploring than right here in Randolph County.