758 Queen Street West, 1986-1996

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A year and a half before Steve had suggested that he be given management authority over the leather shop. He wanted to partner his business with that of the co-operative. He would own 50% of the business and this would give him control of the shop. When he and Bie assumed responsibility for the leather shop in 1980, they had made changes that dramatically increased Ragnarokr’s sales between 1980 and 1986. Before Steve would commit himself to the difficult task of moving the shop to a new location, he wanted to make sure that those changes were not undone. In a stormy confrontation between the members of co-op and Steve Spring, he demanded and was given 50% ownership of a new Ragnarokr into which he would merge “Leather Arts by Spring”. Mary, Randy and Bie voted to accept Steve's proposal and Philip voted no, not for practical reasons, but for ideological and nostalgic reasons. For Philip the change was the end of his dream of a utopian socialist community of that, while floundering, was still important to him and possible still achievable.

Mary and Steve Spring began the search for a new location for the leather shop. Legal Sea Food, at Elm and McCaul, offered to sublet their storefront to Ragnarokr but the owner of the building objected. Finally Steve and Mary begin negotiating with the owner of a storefront on Queen Street West. In July the leather shop signed a three-year lease on a storefront at 758 Queen Street West owned by a young real-estate speculator. The new store had no living quarters attached to it and the occupants of 33 Baldwin Street scattered. Randy and Kathleen purchased a house on Montrose Avenue and Philip signed a two-year lease on a large house at 60 Henry Street owned by the Yung Sing Pastry Shop on Baldwin Street.

Bob Rauton came to help and began work on the new Ragnarokr storefront with the help of Chuck Angus and Brit Griffin. In August Philip Mullins and Morley Yan were called upon to continue the renovations at the new Ragnarokr storefront. Randy Rauton and Rosa Mullins both lent a hand. Robbie Gamble generously provided the funding for the renovations. At the end of the month Ragnarokr vacated 33 Baldwin Street and moved its operations to 758 Queen Street West.

After the move to Queen Street the leather shop’s routine continued as it always had. When Steve Spring took the helm of the business little changed. He continued to work hard to keep the shop stocked and, as always, all decisions were made by consensus. But now, with Steve able to break any deadlocks, decisions could be made in days rather than years or not at all. Robbie Gamble began to work part-time in the shop in 1984 and in November 1986 Bie Engelen, Mary and Randy Rauton, Rosa Mullins, Steve Spring and Robbie were all working in the leather shop. In February 1987 Philip placed 44 Mexican sandals and 30 Panama hats in Ragnarokr on consignment to continue a tradition that he and Mary had begun some fifteen years before.

After the move to Queen Street and under Steve’s careful management, the leather shop’s sales increased dramatically. The shop’s sales for January through December 1987 were $70,391 (almost double the sales of 1983). In 1989 the shop’s sales were $83,529 and in 1990 $76,441. In the 1970s the collective annual income of the Ragnarokr craftsmen rarely exceeded $10,000. In the early 1980s at the Baldwin Street location it averaged around $20,000. After the move to Queen Street, the collective annual income of the craftsmen was consistently above $30,000.

In 1987 Philip and Rosa moved to Florida and Robbie Gamble moved to Hamilton where his wife, Martha, was enrolled in school. Randy finished his studies at the University of Toronto and began teaching secondary school at Central Technical School at Harbord and Bathurst Streets in Toronto. Although he continued to work part-time in the leather shop, Randy gradually withdrew as his job and his family took more of his time. By 1991 only Bie, Mary and Steve were working at Ragnarokr. Bie lived on Toronto Island and, as usual, pursued her many and varied interests, including theater and song. Mary moved into a small room behind the leather shop. Steve, Simone and their two girls lived in a rented house on Bellwoods Avenue not far from the shop.

For almost fifteen years battery belts (used to power portable cameras) were a stable and profitable production item for Ragnarokr. By 1990 the demand for battery belts had declined as camera technology changed. Steve could find nothing to replace this loss. This put increased financial pressure on the shop. The economics of the leather trade and Ragnarokr had changed considerably since it had opened in 1969. By 1994 Steve, Mary, Randy, Bie and Steve’s daughter, Amy, were the only craft persons working at the leather shop. The cost of materials, supplies and overhead had increased while cheaper imports had pushed retail prices down. By then Mary was receiving a retirement check from the US Social Security Administration and worked the customer-service counter at the shop mainly to pay the rent on her room behind the leather shop. Bie Engelen had moved to Toronto Island and worked in the leather shop part-time making and selling sheepskin gloves, jackets and vests. Randy worked part-time while he was taking classes at the University of Toronto but now he was employed full-time as a secondary school teacher. Steve’s youngest daughter Amy started to work in the shop in 1990 making hats and bags. Amy worked full-time only during the Christmas and sandal seasons. The rest of the year she worked as a bicycle messenger. Between 1993 and 1995 Steve and an employee (Erol Onaran) did most of the production work. Occasionally a couple of leather workers (Corey Bernard and Nissan Deviss) came by to use the line finisher and sometimes Erol Onaran would leave leather goods to be sold on consignment. By then all leather work was done on consignment.

Steve saw that the shop’s sales were beginning to decline and he knew of no way to stop the downward trend. He began to think about closing the shop. In 1996 he was the only full-time worker in the leather shop and was responsible for the shop’s management. However, he wanted to stop working with the skins of dead animals and he felt that the others in the co-operative could survive without the shop as well. He and the other craftsmen made the decision to close the shop at the end of 1996.

To prepare for closing the shop, all of the store’s stock was placed on sale for the 1996 Christmas season. Much of the equipment was also put up for sale. The ancient harness-stitching machine was sold to a Mennonite-owned business that actually made harness, Bie exchanged money the shop owned her for a sewing machine she had been using and Amy took some of the other tools. Steve kept only the few tools necessary to finish the custom-orders he had on hand and sold the rest of his outfit. Mary found a small apartment on Gore Valle just a few blocks from where the shop had been. At the end of the Christmas season in December 1996, the Ragnarokr Leather Shop went out of business.

The narrative continues at Mary Mullins at the Catholic Worker, 1979-2003

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