After visiting Worthington last week, Southeast Minnesota Area Labor Council President Laura Askelin posted a link to the Buffalo Billfold company along with a note:
Do yourself a favor and get on over to Worthington MN and check out this shop. But Bring your credit card...you won't be able to resist.
Bill Keitel and his crew proudly write on that home page:
We want to take a moment to thank our customers that have shown unflagging patronage over the past 39 years. In a time when ruthlessly cheap imports flood the market, we strive to make a product that is truly American. Our product is made of buffalo (American Bison) not water buffalo.
Our buffalo hides are not shipped out of the country only to be assembled by somebody else in some distant land (and then brazenly labeled "USA -American Bison-leather").
We strive not to "trick you" in any way. Our buffalo are raised by many,many friends of ours that are ranchers. We hold them in highest regard. The buffalo are raised throughout the U.S. by folks that have a passion for raising an animal that is indigenous to the Great Plains of North America.
To the many folks that question? "who makes this product?" Let us make this statement; "WE MAKE THIS PRODUCT.. 100% From the contract tanning process, to cutting of the hides,to the skiving, to the gluing and sewing and stitching. At the end of the day, we are often......quite tired. Tired, but very grateful for the customers that order our products and allow us to continue this amazing journey of the American craftsman & artisan.
Also a musician and co-founder of Worthington's annual windsurfing festival, Keitel represents the creativity that's taken root on Minnesota's western prairie.
Askelin's visit had another consequence beyond the purchase. The Worthington Daily Globe reports in Bill Keitel introduces Biden at Rochester event:
Several days ago, when Bill Keitel gave a brief tour of his downtown Worthington business to some of out-of-towners, he thought little of it.
He’ll likely think of what transpired Tuesday for the rest of his life.
Keitel, who owns The Cows Outside and Buffalo Billfold Co. on 10th Street, introduced U.S. Vice President Joe Biden on Tuesday in Rochester. On his way back to Worthington Tuesday night, Keitel marveled at the unlikeliness of what had taken place.
“When the Mars lander landed on Mars — that’s what happened to me,” Keitel said. “Some people stopped at the store one day, and then all of a sudden I landed in Rochester with Al Franken, Tim Walz and others.”
Keitel recalled having some visitors in his store about a week ago who were representing Minnesota labor issues and “were looking for local business support.” He knew in advance they wanted to see his business, so when he was called at home during lunch, he returned to the store to offer a tour.
A Facebook friend request followed about two days later, and then came a more unusual contact shortly afterward.
A call from the Obama campaign asking him to speak. Keitel agreed to speak because he's been concerned about health care costs. In the article, he acknowledges that some customers might object to his speaking at a politic event, but decided to accept. He tells the Globe:
The reason I agreed to do it is as a small businessman, we struggle with health care costs. It’s a pretty important issue. My own personal view is that health care is one of the single biggest things that cause small businesses to go out of business. . . .
“Most small businessmen that live in small communities can’t afford to lose any of their patronage and, so many times, people don’t speak up,” Keitel said. “I have friends on every side of the aisle … and I just think it’s an important enough issue that people should step forward and recognize that small businesses are under siege with health care costs.
“I didn’t go up there as a professor of economics and health care issues, and I surely didn’t intend this to be me stepping forward into the political arena. It’s duty, really. … If you’re called upon to say something good for the party, good for the president and good for the country, you do it.”
Read the whole thing, and when you're in Worthington, stop by the shop. Askelin is right: this stuff is beautiful.
A video interview
Photos by Laura Askelin. Used with permission. A shout-out to Luverne's Dale Moerke--one of the best local guys in SW Minnesota for the local and the beautiful.