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Notes From the Underbelly

More Than Leather

By Eric A. Carlson

"What shall he have that killed the deer?
His leather skin and horns to wear."

--William Shakespeare

UPON PURCHASING a motorcycle, it is prudent to swathe one's fleshy parts in leather--the better to survive an encounter with a "cage." The premier San Jose motorcycle apparel shop is unquestionably Just Leather at 2370 Stevens Creek Blvd., close to the sacred intersection of Bascom Avenue and San Carlos Street (Stevens Creek "becomes" San Carlos). Just Leather reigns supreme, not simply because of the quality of the leather--which is exceptional--but because it is a family-run business that treats customers with tender, loving care. Customers like that. Even burly dudes riding 900-pound Harleys appreciate tenderness and polite solicitation.

Jerry and Claire Mann opened Just Leather in 1964, directly across the street from the Snow White Drive-In (renamed Falafel Drive-In in 1966 and still a going concern). Jerry had been making his own leather motorcycle apparel, in part out of necessity, as the only "leathers" available were tailored to hippies. Jerry and Claire still operate the store, along with their son, Mark, and his wife, Tracey. Mark's niece Jennifer helps out on Saturdays. The driving marketing force behind the store's success has been word of mouth. Happy customers spread the word.

When I first opened the door of Just Leather, in search of leather pants to go along with a recently purchased Honda 919, Jennifer walked up to me and asked, "Would you like some coffee?" Sure, said I. "Cream or sugar?" she said. Now, that is service. In fact, on the Just Leather business card is the motto "Coffee Always." And I might add that Just Leather is nondenominational--Harley and Honda types intermingle in peace, and the leather products are appropriate to all of man- and womankind.

The front room is filled with various and sundry items, including Harley-Davidson faux beanie babies and cycle-oriented T-shirts. The middle room features a large round table where bikers sit and chat or look through parts manuals. "That's our BS table," Mark told me, "It was the first thing we put in--a meeting place." Claire collects oversized stuffed animals, and they populate the ledges, nooks and crannies throughout the store, like fluffy gargoyles.

The core business takes place in the backroom--a room filled with racks of black leather jackets, pants, boots and a raised fitting area surrounded by mirrors. Mark fitted me with some sturdy black leather zipped pants, and I asked him when I could come back and pick them up. "We can tailor them right now, if you can wait 20 minutes. Help yourself to coffee and doughnut holes." Like I said: service. The pants were ready in 20 minutes.

Every Saturday before Christmas--as it has for the last 20 years--Just Leather celebrates Customer Appreciation Day, on which the BS table is filled with food, and bikers mingle in leathery camaraderie. "Last year, 1,500 people walked through the front door," Tracey told me. And the street was filled with amazing machines.

Just Leather (www.justleathers.com) is a family-run business where customer service is almost a religion. On the same day I purchased my pants, I experienced the sour effects of an organization going in a very different direction--the Sunnyvale Art and Wine Festival, which takes place a block from my house. My roommate came home in tears. In past years, she would walk to the festival with her parrot, William, resting on her shoulder. This made William happy as a lark and also provided much merriment to people attending the festival. Not so this year. She was stopped by two Sunnyvale policemen who told her animals were not allowed. Apparently, the rule did not apply to the multiple dogs milling about, or to the myriad crows, seagulls and sparrows diving on half-eaten hot dogs--those birds were damn lucky the cops didn't draw their service revolvers.

I asked a woman at the information booth about the banning of 7-ounce parrots, and she told me that people just have to accept being told no. "No is an OK word," she told me. Well, thank you, SpongeBob SquarePants. Folks, next time you consider going to the sanitized Sunnyvale Art and Wine Festival--don't. Go to Just Leather instead. It's family, and parrots are welcome.

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From the June 20-26, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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