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Leather craftsman has made a career

May 20, 2002

BOONSBORO - Marvin Bower admits that if he'd had a desk job first, he probably would never have changed careers to become a festival vendor.

The change would have required too much investment while supporting a family of four, said Bower, 48, who lives north of Boonsboro. Bower and his wife, Bonnie, own Tanners Creek.

Bower's career of making leather and canvas products such as handbags and luggage started as a hobby while he was still a student at South Hagerstown High School. He taught himself how to make leather products after seeing bracelets and headbands a friend had made.

His startup costs were minimal, with about $200 invested for leather belts, buckles and dye.

While his investment and business have grown considerably since those days, Bower said he's never had to borrow money from a bank for his business.

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He built the business slowly, investing in equipment when the opportunity presented itself.

In the mid-1970s, Bower sold his drum set for $200 so he could buy his first sewing machine.

He bought a used hydraulic press for die cutting fabric at a factory auction for $1,000.

The machine, which weighs more than 3,000 pounds, would probably cost $10,000 to $20,000 new.

To generate enough business to support his family, Bower attends festivals with crowds of at least 20,000 people.

Bower logs about 20,000 miles a year traveling to an average of 25 festivals or craft shows. He hauls his inventory in a trailer, which often serves as his overnight shelter.

Bower goes as far as Ann Arbor, Mich., where several art and craft shows are held at once in July, making it among the biggest craft shows in the nation, he said. He's also been to Denver, Richmond, Va., and Timonium, Md.

Locally, he goes to the Mountain Heritage Arts & Crafts Festival near Harpers Ferry, W.Va., the Frederick Festival of the Arts, Boonsborough Days and the Maryland Christmas Show at Frederick Fairgrounds after Thanksgiving.

Bower estimates that 80 percent of his yearly business comes from sales or orders generated from attending festivals and craft shows. Wholesale orders account for another 10 percent, with the remaining 10 percent coming from Internet orders.

For more information about Tanners Creek, call 301-432-2010 or visit www.tannerscreekcanvas.com.

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