Aaron and Erin Buckley

“I was riding my motorcycle home from work when a car blasted in front of me. I slowed down, but not in enough time: there was a work van there and I went into a slide, caught my leg on the bumper, and went flying through the street. My leg was crushed and broken in half, requiring six surgeries later to fix. 

I couldn’t work for a year and a half, and I needed something to keep my brain busy. We have a local shoe shop here that I bought some leather from, just to work on that while I was home.

We went to Pennsylvania for another surgery, and when we came back, I started bugging the shoe shop to work there for free. I got them to agree to that, and eventually, they started paying me $5 an hour. I left there to take a job at an automotive plant, but I kept doing leatherwork on the side and using the machines at the shoe shop.

I made Erin a bag for her birthday. She had come across one she liked, but it was really expensive, so I tried to make her one that was similar. I posted about it online and wished her a happy birthday when a bunch of people commented on it and were interested in buying one themselves.

I worked on the floor at the plant for two years, and then eventually became a supply chain analyst. During that time, we were working on a website and selling the bags I was making on the side. We gradually increased our workspace from our spare bedroom, to a shed, then rented a space next to a tattoo shop that was across the street from our house. We decided we needed a website, and friends from Philly helped us out with that whole process. When we launched the site, we oversold like crazy! In that first month, we shipped to all lower 48 states.

“There would be days where she was leaving for work and people would be standing in our garage trying to order a bag. It was just wild.”

Aaron Buckley

It got to the point where I either needed to quit doing leatherwork altogether, because it was taking up so much of my time. Our daughter, America, was nine months old when we decided I was going to quit my job with a 401k, life insurance, and a stable salary to try to make leather bags for a living.

When I quit, we moved the workshop into the garage of our house. We even had an open house in our garage. It was cool and it was pretty packed. We had beer, it was catered and people came – like not just our friends – and hung out in our yard.

I was working full-time in the garage and Erin still had her old job. There would be days where she was leaving for work and people would be standing in our garage trying to order a bag. It was just wild.”

—Erin and Aaron Buckley, River City Leather

“We did a couple custom orders of branded goods for restaurants, like nice menu covers or hats with leather patches on them. Then, we got introduced to a guy who was making knives. The source he was using for knife sheaths couldn’t keep up with production. At that point, I had already hired two employees to help me keep up with just my regular work, not even the custom stuff. Then we added custom orders for probably three or four different customers. The knife maker was initially just 30, 40 or 50 sheaths a week, but it quickly got to 250 a week. We were doing all this work manually, cutting stuff out with basically a hand press. It was just getting crazy.

We had just gotten through a holiday season and it was crazy, even with five employees to help us out. Customers wanted more and more.

We had always said if we ever got a retail store, we wanted to make sure it was by the park, because that side of town is really pretty. Nothing really ever comes up for sale here, at least that is affordable. Some of the buildings are older and huge, and we just figured it would be really hard to make any of them work.

I had dropped off America at school one morning, when I noticed there was a sign in the window of the building that said ‘For Sale’. So, I drove back around the block, took down the number, and called them right away. I didn’t even call to talk to Erin about it first. We got an appointment to look at it that afternoon.

It was previously a restaurant, and it had just closed the day before. It had been here for years, it smelled and it was poorly taken care of, but we just fell in love with it. We knew it would definitely work and be enough room for what we needed.

The next day, we met with the agent, made an offer, and bought the building. Nearly overnight, we became a real business…and had real debt! It’s just crazy to think of how fast it all happened.

When we bought the building, we also found out that we were pregnant with baby number two. We have a video of Erin holding a sledgehammer while pregnant and with a baby belly. It was pretty fun.”

—Aaron Buckley, River City Leather

“I didn’t want to make things that get put on a shelf or just something to look at. I wanted to make something where the object itself was cool in its own right, but you can see that it’s well-made and can be used. We use the same leather that a cowboy would use for chaps and the strap is the same leather you use to harness up a horse, and when people hear that, they know they aren’t going to wear it out.

We love hearing people’s stories with our bags. One of Erin’s friends even ran over her bag with her car and it was fine. Another friend left her purse out back on the porch overnight and it downpoured, and the bag was literally full with five inches of water. She’s still using it and it’s fine. It’s just great hearing people’s stories of how they have used their bags and how they’ve lasted and stood the test of time.

“Right now, we have a pretty large expansion going on in the manufacturing side of our business. At some point, we’re going to have to say no, but for now, we just want to keep saying ‘yes’.”

aaron buckley

Because I have to work on the business, I don’t get to really make bags too much anymore. There are times when I wish I was making bags myself again, but it has also been good to reflect on something that you’ve built, and that gives us a lot of opportunities to spend time with our family.

Our employees have families, too, and thinking about how this business helps them support their families with us is really rewarding. We’ve also been able to train people in a craft, skills like sewing and other finishing techniques, which aren’t taught all that often anymore.

We’ve been asked for advice over the years, like whenever somebody we know is starting a business. One of my biggest pieces of advice is you have to learn when to say ‘no’. But at the same time, know when to say ‘yes’, too. Right now, we have a pretty large expansion going on in the manufacturing side of our business. At some point, we’re going to have to say no, but for now, we just want to keep saying ‘yes’.”

—Aaron Buckley, River City Leather

“I think being able to provide jobs for people is one of the most rewarding aspects of all this for me. I never in my life thought that I would doing something that created jobs for people, that they in turn supported their family with.

“Investing in equipment means that instead of paying more people, we can pay people better and we can improve the quality of life for our employees.”

Aaron Buckley

We got through 2020 with both our production facility and our retail space, when we had an opportunity to take more than 30 clients on a manufacturing level. Over the years, we’ve pivoted several times, starting with me just making bags and wallets in a spare bedroom, to increasing production doing private label work, and adding our own retail. 2020 really forced us to ask, ‘Where do we want to see ourselves going?’ And really, it was a no-brainer. We closed the retail space to use as a studio space, invested in a bunch of equipment, and moved into a 5,000-square-foot location up the river a little bit. We brought on a bunch of new clients, and since then, our client list has continued to grow, which has been really great.

It was a great opportunity for us as a business, but also for our employees. Making an investment in equipment means that we don’t have to hire more employees—something that is difficult and has been for a while. For us, investing in equipment means that instead of paying more people, we can pay people better and we can improve the quality of life for our employees. Instead of just hiring more and more people, our focus is making sure that as the business grows and makes more money, our employees can make more money, too.

This piece of equipment will also dramatically improve our sustainability: our waste will go way down, so our yield will go up significantly.

It’s a really good opportunity that changed our whole business, meaning we can potentially change the lives of everybody who works for us.”

–Aaron Buckley, River City Leather

“We also do a lot of community-related events, and we try to support our community in different ways. Five or six times a year, we bring in food trucks, music, beer and many businesses have followed. We’ve also helped with two music festivals as well. We started an event called First Friday a few years ago geared toward getting people out to experience our town. Between the First Friday events and other community events, we’ve raised around $50,000 to help revamp our downtown.

The festival was cool and we had excellent music. It was called the River Rat Beer and Music Festival. We even had people come from as far as New York for it.


We got really lucky because Tyler Childers is from around here. His album had dropped like a month before the event, and we got him to headline last minute, so it was just wild. We had our friends at Kin Ship Goods in Charleston, West Virginia do all our posters and they were really cool. We had a local tattoo place tattoo people in the park. An artist had drawn up a little rat commemorating the event: I got one tattooed on me along with a bunch of people from the bands and people that attended. We had a lot of fun.

At the end of the day, it was really cool to see all of the people in the park and here enjoying our town. Anything we do, we’re going to try and do it right. We are going to try and kill it from the start. I don’t want to do something and have it be janky, that’s the worst to me.”

—Erin Buckley, River City Leather

Gallipolis, Gallia County