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Essentially Ashland

Nimbus: The metamorphosis of a downtown mainstay

I walked into Nimbus awhile back looking for a leather — pouch that could attach to a belt, therein to carry my wallet, a Swiss-army — knife, a small pen and pad and a small bottle of patchouli oil. I found — what I wanted, then bought a handcrafted leather belt. I paid and walked — out the door and looked at Ashland's Plaza on a summer's afternoon in — 1972.

Brooks Hodapp founded Nimbus Leatherworks in 1971 in what — was then an abandoned lawnmower repair shop, after having moved here from — Forest Glen, Calif. He decorated his new store with barn wood from around — the Rogue Valley. His initial product line included tooled leather belts, — purses, wallets, key chains, a wide array of stained glass and leather — coats crafted by Steve Boe. Brooks worked upstairs on a long bench producing — the inventory, from which he could manage the increasingly popular retail — store while watching more and more people discover his operation and explore — the store. He kept the store open until after the evening plays in the — hope of making a few extra sales, this while he continued to work away — on the leather goods.

In 1972, Brooks bought the adjoining Village Fair retail — store, which carried candles, pottery, turquoise and silver jewelry, indoor — plants and custom cowboy shirts, prairie dresses with a lot of patchwork — and ruffles made by Lois Prinz and Fredi Lawrence, who later opened up — her own shop a few doors up the street. The two operations were soon joined — by a cut in the wall. A couple of years later another door was cut into — the deserted repair shop of Lithia Motors' first location, which became — a woman's clothing and shoe area.

Brooks paid the now-famous Harry Anderson $5 a day to — perform magic within the store. That went on for a couple of years until — Harry requested an increase to $15. Brooks declined, saying: "Good luck — finding somebody to pay you that much money ?" The TV show "Night Court," — which starred Anderson, has already ruled on that judgment.

Ken Silverman, who has owned Nimbus since 1984, began — working there in 1974. He learned to work with leather from Brooks while — beginning a separate venture that involved transforming salvaged redwood — into leather-banded driftwood flowerpots, marketed under the name "Nimbus — Woodworks." In 1977, Ken began managing the store, in charge of adding — women's', then men's' shoes. This was the year that my wife, Annette, — and I of Lithia Grocery sold our Birkenstock franchise to Brooks.

Meanwhile, Brooks and his brother-in-law, Lenny White, — opened a wholesale leather operation in the current location of Pyramid — Juice on Helman Street, becoming a major source of employment with a staff — of 40. The operation expanded to become the world's largest wholesale — tooled leather belt manufacturer, selling to the likes of J.C. Penny's — and Army PXs around the world.

During a trip to Salem in 1982, Ken wandered into a store — that forever changed the look of Nimbus. Soon men's clothing was brought — in - Fry boots and goods from OP and Generra. The trend toward fashion — continued, with the current look including Tommy Bahama and a wealth of — cutting-edge European-inspired looks. Brooks changed the name from Nimbus — Leatherworks and Village Fair to simply Nimbus. The former Village Fair — now sports a large and varied collection of contemporary American crafts.

Recently, I exited Nimbus wearing a new pair of pants, — a silk shirt and a tailored jacket. I looked into the shopping bag I was — carrying and smiled fondly at the leather pouch that had served me well — for many years, now to be taken home and hung in a place of honor in my — closet. The still-present vial of patchouli oil confirmed that a little — can go a long ways.

I looked skyward at some cumulonimbus clouds in the distance — as my mind drifted into a thunderstorm of images of change over the decades — that have transformed the look and feel of the Plaza. I headed to the — car to avoid dancing in the rain.

You may shop online for men's shirts at Nimbus' Web site — www.hisfavoriteshirt.com, or call 482-3621.

Future columns will focus on many downtown businesses — that have helped make Ashland unique. Contact: lance@journalist.com. Drop — by my blog and help me figure things out: