Ragnarokr Cordwainery, April 1969-August 1969

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On April 15, 1969 the Yellow Ford Truck moved to a new storefront at 25 Baldwin and a leather shop was opened at the old location at 11 Baldwin Street. The leather shop was named the “Ragnarokr Cordwainery: a Liberation Tribal Store”. The leather shop was the first of what was hoped would be many spin-offs from the Yellow Ford Truck. The Yellow Ford Truck store contributed half of the first month’s rent, Colleen Anderson donated $50 and Mary Rauton and Philip Mullins both kept their day jobs while working at the leather shop evenings and week-ends. Lee Welch, a gold miner, loaned Ragnarokr four hundred dollars before leaving for an extended trip to Europe. When the leather shop opened, Randy Rauton and Steve Blossom were its first full-time workers.

By May the Ragnarokr commune consisted of Steve Spring, Mary and Randy Rauton and Philip Mullins. Steve Blossom had returned to the US. Philip and Mary lived in the summer kitchen at 224 McCaul Street and later moved to a new room in the front part of the basement. In June Frank Tettemer (from Pennsylvania) and Marita DeGive (from Atlanta) joined Philip, Mary, Randy and Steve Spring in the leather shop. Mary sold her diamond engagement ring and quit her secretarial job at the Separate School Board to work full-time in the leather shop. Philip also quit his day job at Pax Design on Yorkville Avenue but continued to work as a night janitor at the Bond Street Separate School in addition to working at Ragnarokr. The residents of 218 McCaul Street included Frank Tettemer, Marita DeGive, Steve Bush, Steve Spring, Colleen Anderson, the baby Seth and Ed and Sheila Street (from California).

The leather shop continued to grow. In July the commune accepted Barry and Susan Woolaver (from Pennsylvania) as members. The leather shop rented the upstairs of the building at 11 Baldwin Street after the Chinese owner moved his family to a new home in Scarborough. Steve Spring, Randy Rauton and Mary and Philip moved into the upstairs along with Margaret Thurlow and Dave Woodward. After a six-hour waiting game with the Immigration Officer, Tom Bonanno (from New York) was given landed immigrant status in Prescott, Ontario, and he too moved into 11 Baldwin Street.

Customer traffic and sales increased and new craftsmen were being added on a regular basis. The business was an open studio and welcomed anyone resident in the Baldwin Street community who was willing to abide by the community’s few rules. The storefront was divided into a workshop and a retail area. The commune’s members were expected to attend to the shop’s customers while producing leather goods for sale. No investment in the business was required and no equity could be earned. It was a communal enterprise. The shop provided tools, supplies, materials and a work place as well as room and board. The communalists supplied only their labor. The shop’s profits, as meager as they were, were shared equally among the members and all decisions were made by consensus.

By August 1969 the leather shop commune had outgrown its new living quarters at 11 Baldwin Street. Rather than move to larger quarters, the decision was made to attempt to create a production facility elsewhere while maintaining the storefront on Baldwin Street. This was the model the Whole Earth Natural Food Store was using. The leather shop stuck with this scheme for the next ten years. The Whole Earth commune rented a large house and a packaging facility on ten-acres of land in the Toronto suburbs and commuted to the storefront on McCaul Street everyday. In a similar fashion, the Ragnarokr commune hoped to maintain a leather shop on Baldwin Street that could handle repairs, customer fittings, custom-orders and retail sales while building a separate facility in a rural area that could handle the growing wholesale trade and supply the leather shop on Baldwin Street with stock items. Unlike the Whole Earth Store, the Ragnarokr commune always maintained living quarters and a complete workshop behind the storefront.

To test the new model, the leather shop rented an old hotel in the community of Lakefield for $85 a month. The hotel had 14 rooms. Between August 1969 and February 1970 members of the Ragnarokr commune rotated between Toronto and the hotel on Stoney Lake. A small leather shop was built in the hotel and the products were sold to a store in Peterborough or in the leather shop in Toronto. Dave Woodward joined the leather shop and Frank Tettemer left to work as a carpenter. Tom Bonanno and his friend, Bobbie Harding, moved into rooms above the leather shop at 11 Baldwin Street and learned to do leather work.

The narrative continues at The Union of American Exiles, May 1969-December 1969

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