This post is part of my new Texas Hill Country series, virtual love letters to where I call “home.”
There’s something about the smell inside of Ludwig & Marglin Leather Company’s shop in New Braunfels, Texas, that triggered deep memories for yours truly, taking me back. Way back.
Indeed, the rich, leathery smell evoked memories of my long-gone paternal grandpa’s ranch up near Bend, Texas–specifically the cowboy gear used to manage horses, cattle, and sheep. Even today my childhood Western-style belt (a gift that Granddaddy Julian got for me up at Harry’s Boots in San Saba) hangs in my guestroom. It’s a decorative nod to bedrock Hill Country values of rugged determination, community-mindedness, and basic decency.
Turns out that it’s in that same local spirit that Terri Cocanougher purchased and revitalized her leather repair and custom manufacturing shop.
“I bought the place in August 2015, but got started with the remodeling of the shop a few months ago,” said Terri. “Al Ludwig [the former owner], who continues to mentor me and make regular visits to the shop, let me make changes before I paid him a dime.”
Founded in 1938, the shop was known far and wide as Ludwig’s Leather until Terri took over. It was she who paired the well-respected Ludwig name with the last name of her own German ancestor, Peter Marglin.
Thus, Ludwig & Marglin was born.
Like many Central Texas natives, Terri owes part of her own heritage to waves of German immigrants. Fleeing food insecurity, revolutions, and land shortages in Europe, they arrived by the thousands to the Lone Star State in the mid-nineteenth century. Through hard work and determination—not to mention dedication to one another in the spirit of community, those immigrants overcame hardships to craft a new home in a new land.
Talking with Terri, one catches glimpses of that same moxie.
“When I bought the building, I thought that the Ludwig family would stay put or move, that I’d be a landlord. Then they started talking about closing, and I couldn’t let that happen. There was too much history here,” she said, adding pointedly, “Also eight families in our community would have lost their head of household’s income.”
An Appreciation for Craft
With experience owning and managing several farm and ranch stores up in North Texas, Terri understood the required bookkeeping and administrative tasks. She didn’t grasp leather crafting, and unfortunately her first attempt at it left her with a sore hand.
Now she prefers to focus on the administrative side of things, leaving her talented staff to do the creative work.
“Everyone in this shop loves each other and the work,” she said. “The best thing I can do is make sure they have what they need and then get out of the way. I take care of things, promote their work, and brag on them.”
The most senior staff member is Al “Opie” Oppelt. He’s 84 years old.
“Opie told me the other day that he was going to retire,” Terri said, pausing a beat. “He said he’d only work here for six more years.”
Opie and the rest of the staff combined possess a range of skills, from sewing to design. Customers can pick up readymade items (holsters, bridles and other ranch gear, Bible covers, and so forth), have saddles repaired, or order custom goods. The custom works are especially striking in their quality, and you might have glimpsed some of their work on the History channel’s Roots remake.
“We made bosals with twenty-two foot long hand-braided mohair mecates [reins] for them, after they saw our work online,” said Terri. She added that half the shop’s income comes from public sales and the other half from farm and ranch suppliers.
“Surprisingly, we get a lot of Amish clients,” she said. “That’s fascinating because they seldom ever use the phone. So we usually get a letter in the mail and then there’s a slow, steady back and forth through the post office until the order is worked out, the bill paid. They’re great return customers, though.”
After a long hot summer, Terri says business reliably picks up at the shop come September.
“With Würstfest [in November], we get a lot of orders for lederhosen repairs and custom orders. I mean the minute I put the sign out asking people if their lederhosen is ready for Würstfest, people will start coming in,” Terri said. “Next there’s Wassailfest [in December]. The first year that I had the shop, Al told me that I should be ready with wassail. I wasn’t sure what he meant, but I did as he suggested. I bought 1,000 taster cups for wassail—and we ran out! All winter long people will come in to purchase something and say ‘I was here during Wassailfest.’ It’s incredible.”
As we chatted on the afternoon of my visit, Terri and I were seated in the shop’s business office. One by one the staff came in to say farewell for the day, and Terri sent each of them off warmly. Watching those exchanges I gleaned that Ludwig & Marglin is more than just a great place to buy custom leather goods. Indeed, it remains a place where relationships are valued and our Central Texas heritage is cherished.
Basically, it’s exactly the kind of place where my granddaddy would have loved to shop.
Pamela Price is a Central Texas journalist, author, and founder of RedWhiteandGrew.com (Facebook | Twitter | Instagram). She’s currently scouting authentic Hill Country faces, places, and natural spaces to cover as part of this new series. Drop her a note if you’ve got an idea, tip, lead, or suggestion.