A labor of love for 38 years
Tigger Leather Silversmith has been in Boothbay Harbor for 38 years. Owner Peter Dombrowski said it has been a labor of love.
The shop was originally in the building that is now Coastal Dog, from 1978 to 1981. Dombrowski moved to his present location, at 1 Commercial Street, in 1981.
Dombrowski said he just kind of fell into what would become his life’s journey. “One day I was at a friend’s leather shop with my brother. We decided to try making a couple belts.” They opened their first store in rural New Jersey in 1972.
Dombrowski does all the custom leather work, including belts, bags, briefcases, holsters, knife sheaths, wallets and sandals. You name it, he's made it. “I've made everything from belts and sandals to ice skates for a donkey,” he said.
Wait. What? Ice skates for a donkey? “It was for the ice capades in New Jersey,” he said. “I made the skates but they couldn't teach him to skate. He kept falling over.”
Dombrowski said the second strangest request he’s had was for a chamois bikini for one of the Playboy bunnies. “There was a big Playboy resort near us in New Jersey.”
“There are very few leathersmiths left in the world,” he said. “Anyone who's doing it is in his 70's. I don't know of a leather shop that has opened in at least 30 years. I make a knife case that takes two and a half hours to make, plus the leather, and sell it for $35. Nobody wants to work for nothing.”
Dombrowski said he uses the best quality leather there is. A man recently brought in one of Dombrowski's belts that he had worn for 30 years. “The only reason he stopped wearing it was he ran out of places to add holes,” he said. “My belts will last 25 or 30 years.”
All of the stitching at Tigger's is done by hand, with a needle and thread, not a machine. “Everything is hand-stitched,” he said. “My stitching will outlast the leather.”
All of the silversmithing is done by hand, too. Dombrowski starts with a large sheet of silver and cuts designs out of it. “I draw the design on paper, then I cut around it. I also tool silver, which very few people do,” he said. “I had to make special tools for that.”
Dombrowski has been making sterling silver Christmas ornaments for family members for years. “My grandson just got married, so I'm up to 14 ornaments now. Every year it's a different design. This year it was a hummingbird.”
Aside from the huge array of belts, bags and other leather items, and the handmade silver items, there are cases full of other silver and gold jewelry, including charms, earrings and bracelets. “I probably have the biggest display of silver charms anywhere,” he said. The gold charms are all 14 karat.
Different items are popular at different times, Dombrowski said. “Last year it was briefcases.”
Dombrowski works seven days and six nights a weeks during the busy season, from late October until Labor Day. “I'm usually here until 1 a.m. in the summer, and I'm never caught up,” he said.
During the winter the shop is open Thursday through Saturday, around noon to 5 p.m. Call 207-633-5432 or visit www.maineleathersmith.com.