The Business of the Leather Shop, November 1970-December 1971

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Despite the tumultuous and chaotic goings on in the house and in the surrounding exile community, the leather shop continued to increase its volume of sales and the quality of its goods. In May 1970 Ragnarokr was given an “Award of Excellence” for its leather crafts at the Sheridan Spring Craft Fair in Oakville, Ontario and in September Mary is elected to sit on the Ontario Craft Foundation’s Craftsman’s Advisory Board. In June 1971 Mary was selected by the members of the Craftsman’s Advisory Committee to be their representative to the Board of Directors of the Ontario Craft Foundation and Philip replaced her on the Craftsman’s Advisory Board.

Between July to December 1970 Ragnarokr’s total sales were $6,110.52. Taking advantage of their unorthodox communal business arrangement and having a little anarchist fun at the same time, the leather shop developed a complicated bookkeeping scheme to minimize Federal excise and provincial sales taxes. The system involved separate manufacturing, wholesaling and retailing entities. The legal ownership and name of Ragnarokr changed from Ragnarokr Cordwainery to The Ragnarokr Cordwainery as part of the tax evasion scheme. The registered owners of The Ragnarokr Cordwainery were Mary and Randy Rauton, George Mullins, Madelyn Averitte and Steve Spring. Philip Mullins was the owner of a separate wholesale company called Fourth World.

The wholesaler, Fourth World Imports, distributed a 1970 Catalogue of goods manufactured by Ragnarokr and the Mud Farm to the commune’s wholesale customers. The Ragnarokr entity manufactured leather goods and the Mud Farm entity manufactured tie-dye clothing, all made in Toronto by members of the Ragnarokr commune. The logo of Fourth World Imports was a beaver reclining on a globe. The logo symbolized Canada’s and the commune’s ascendancy. (insert a link to “Ragnarokr Products”, file 2.8)

Despite the new business organization, the commune continued to function as it always had. The household at 33 Baldwin Street consisted of George and Madelyn in the upstairs front room, Randy in the upstairs rear room, the workshop in the middle room upstairs and Philip and Mary in the downstairs rear room. The full-time workers received room and board in addition to a percentage of the retail value of their sales. Other workers included Steve Spring, Sheila Street, Simone Bulger, Morley Yan, Mary Burdick and Sonya Cunningham. Morley Yan was a neighorhood youth and the others were American expatriates.

In March 1971 Cow Products, a business registered by George Mullins and Madelyn Averette, obtained a Provincial Sales Tax license and began selling leather goods to Fourth World (the wholesale operation) and Ragnarokr (the retailer). Cow Products (the manufacturer) sold cheaply to minimize Federal Sales Tax. Steve Spring, Mary and Randy sold their shares of Ragnarokr to George and Madelyn. Each person was supposed to receive $300 over a period of months for their share of Ragnarokr’s assets. No money changed hands and the business continued to operate as before.

The leather shop had been granted an Excise Tax License in September 1970 and in April 1971 Revenue Canada sent P.N. Chakravorty to audit Ragnarokr and Cow Products. He found the leather shop’s business arrangement unorthodox but legal and helped the leather shop set up a better bookkeeping system. Despite all of the commune’s efforts, this first audit of its business operations by Revenue Canada resulted in an assessment of $276.69. Mr. Chakravorty’s supervisor at Revenue Canada demanded immediate payment and stated that the Government’s lawyers were standing by and were ready to file a lien. The tax bill of $276.69 nearly bankrupt the shop. The following month Revenue Canada informed Ragnarokr that the tax assessment was too high and that a refund of $97.21 was due. However, the refund check didn’t arrive until September, too late to help with the immediate cash crunch.

The commune continually looked for ways to increase sales. In the fall of 1969 the leather shop agreed to help a number of independent craftspeople to operate a retail stall at the Market on Yonge Street. In return for shelf space in the stall, Ragnarokr is assigned to run the booth one evening a week. Since the Ragnarokr storefront on Baldwin Street was set back from the sidewalk, George carved a sign from a large wooden beam, mounted it on a concrete base and placed it on the sidewalk in front of the leather shop where it remained for 15 years. When customers began asking for cowboy-style boots, Philip imported boots from the Frye Boot Company in the US and sold them in the store.

The leather shop was constantly adding new products and styles, especially to its line of sandals. The summer months became known as “the sandal season” and, along with “the Christmas season”, accounted for most of the leather shop’s retail sales. In April 1971 Larry and Sarah Langner arrived in Toronto from Israel via the West Indies. Larry was a skilled leather worker and taught Ragnarokr how to make Israeli-style sandals. He set up a workshop in the basement of 33 Baldwin Street and began to sell his products from a pushcart on Yonge Street near the intersection with Bloor Avenue. The next year he and Sarah visited Guatemala and returned in full native Mayan dress. He and his pushcart became a tourist attraction and he continued his successful career as a leather worker until he returned to the US in 1974.

The commune continued to sell its leather goods at craft shows and fairs whenever possible. In May 1971 Ragnarokr rented a booth at the Sheridan Annual Craft Fair in Oakville, Ontario and in June a booth at the Huronia Festival of Crafts in Barrie, Ontario. The following month Ragnarokr was invited to sell leather goods at the first Mariposa Folk Festival on Toronto Island. All of these shows were successful marketing opportunities for the leather shop.

In September Ragnarokr was once again represented in the Fall Gift Show at the CNE by the Ontario Craft Foundation. Ragnarokr had the largest volume of sales of the twenty or so craftsmen represented by the Ontario Craft Foundation at the show. The leather shop received an invitation from the Canadian Craftsman’s Association to sell leather goods in their Christmas Craftsman’s Market in Ottawa and Philip and Mary drove to Ottawa in November to represent the commune.

The narrative continues at The Purchase of the Frostpocket, November 1970-November 1971

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