How’s Biz?: At Sixkiller Saddle Shop, no two days are the same
For Ned Sixkiller, owner of Sixkiller Saddle Shop, every day is a new project.
“I’m always making something,” Sixkiller said. “Fixing saddles, making shafts and quite a few belts.”
Sixkiller, who has been connected to saddle-making and working with leather for decades, said he is constantly working on new products for clients who come into his store on West Victory Way. The shelves and hooks on the walls are lined with various leather goods, from horse bits and saddles to wallets and knife sheaths. A rack of large saddles sits just at the front of the store’s door, welcoming customers into the workshop.
“I’ve done this since 1964, basically,” he said. “There was an old man who was a neat old guy, and I used to run around (his shop) as a little kid. He got a contract to make a bunch of first aid cases for the mine. He needed some help with some of his stuff, and that’s kind of where I got started.”
When he was young, he worked at a boot shop, repairing shoes for customers.
“Boot-fixing was fun back then, but the boots we have today, there’s only a few that you can even fix,” Sixkiller said.
Any one of Sixkiller’s detailed saddles that he makes today can take close to three weeks when made from scratch, and the starting price for his work is $2,500. However, despite the chokehold that the COVID-19 pandemic had on businesses across the country, Sixkiller said shutdowns and quarantines did little harm — if any — to his business.
“I was busy, busy, busy (when the pandemic started), so when they said everyone was going to shut down, I was really disappointed,” he added. “I just left the ‘Closed’ sign up and came to the store every day, and I had nobody for about four or five days. Then when people found out I was here, it never changed a bit.”
He said there’s no particular time of the year that stays busier than the others, but there are small upticks in the fall when elk hunters arrive to the area and around Christmas and the holidays. Sixkiller’s saddles end up across the area and in the hands of ranchers and those of other professions.
He does all of the work himself, including cutting patterns, drying leather and building the saddles. Sixkiller said he has tried to bring on new hands to help at his store, but it never seems to work out. Working alone doesn’t bother him, he said, but his favorite part of the business is watching raw materials turn into the final product.
“It is kind of fun when you start it from a tree and then kind of see what you got when you get done,” Sixkiller said. “Sometimes they don’t end up like you wanted to, and sometimes it looks a lot better when you get done with everything.”
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