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9/7/2003

For leather, it’s Rolling Thunder

The Associated Press

FORT COLLINS — Whether the client is an everyday customer or a celebrity like Charlton Heston, Ted Danson or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Rolling Thunder Ranch puts the same effort into every order.

Rolling Thunder, a Fort Collins-based leather specialty store, makes many historically inspired articles of clothing, including western wear, Victorian dresses and many Native American style pieces from several tribes.

The business sold Heston an outfit and made some of the costumes Danson wore for the movie “Made in America,” with Whoopi Goldberg.

Abdul-Jabbar, an amateur historian and part Native American, bought an outfit for $3,500. It was one of the store’s largest sales ever, said store co-owner Michael Guli. Few people spend what Abdul-Jabbar did.

Prices generally range from $24.95 for a belt to $400 for a custom outfit.

“We are starting to become known all over the United States as the experts in this field,” Guli said. Orders also come from across the world.

Guli’s partner, Sharon Moore, specializes in Victorian pieces. She became interested in the business after doing costume design in theater.

From there, she began researching the history behind the clothing and made it her career.

Guli, a former teacher, was asked to integrate leatherwork into his class even though he had never had any experience with it.

He has been hooked ever since and has worked with leather for the last 30 years.

Part of Guli’s fascination with custom-made items is the opportunity to teach his customers the historical inspiration behind the products.

“I’m an educator,” he said. “We have passion for what we do, and we make a living at it.”

Customers have ordered some fairly unusual items. Some have bought wedding dresses and costumes, said Moore, who teamed with Guli to form their corporation, River Crossing Inc.

Guli said the five-person staff can work on several dozen orders at any one time. Popular items include moccasins, belts and dog collars. Seventy percent of the orders are for leather products.

“We can do it as simple or as complex as you want,” Moore said.

Some customers bring in their own designs, while others go through a consultation to find their perfect product.

Jo Schamberger has been a customer for about seven years. After seeing a leather backpack that her sister bought, Schamberger decided she wanted one of her own, and she’s been a regular ever since.

“The main reason I go there is the leather work,” she said. “They’ll do what you want them to do.”

Schamberger brought in an old backpack that she wanted duplicated in leather. Rolling Thunder put it together piece by piece without having to take the original apart, she said. Schamberger has also purchased other items, including vests for her husband.

Rolling Thunder usually needs about six weeks to produce a custom article of clothing. After the customer explains what she wants, designers research the time period that fits the description down to the last button, Moore said.

Guli and Moore then consult with the customer to take height and size measurements before selecting the leather and colors.

Finally, the piece is assembled.

Guli‘s goal is for the clothes to fit the customer perfectly with no need for alterations.

Even though the business has been operating since the 1980s and has plenty of experience, Guli said he is surprised by how many people still don’t know about Rolling Thunder Ranch.

“We just went to Cheyenne Frontier Days (in July), and I can’t tell you how many people said ‘Wow. We didn’t know you were there.’”

But, as the name continues to grow, Guli and Moore are learning that people do find their way through the front door.