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Historic Oregon tannery shuts down

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Archives - July 2007
Sunday, July 01, 2007


DALLAS — Lisa Koloen hoped to see her daughter keep alive the family’s tannery but instead came to a hard realization. “Being a historic place doesn’t pay the bills,” says Koloen.

Muir & McDonald Co., the oldest of three remaining tanneries in the United States employing a traditional vegetable tanning method, will close its doors this summer after 144 years in the business. The tannery supplies leather to saddle makers in Louisiana and Texas and until now has defended its title as the oldest continuously running business in Polk County.

The vegetable method the tannery uses requires a four-month process that allows the tanner to start and end with one piece of hide, compared to other processes that can finish in hours. But the tannery kept with tradition, even until the very end.

The decision to close was a difficult five-year process, says Koloen, company president and the fourth generation of tanners at Muir. “The confusing and crazy part,” Koloen says, was that “the tannery had a lot of orders.” Despite demand, the rising cost of production for a small tannery operating in a world market combined with an unwieldy utility bill for the company’s 40,000-square-foot building forced the tannery to close down. “I love this business,” Koloen says. “This has been our life.”

Koloen worked at the tannery as a child, sweeping floors and painting fences. She remembers growing up and seeing the town’s businesses spring up around the tannery.

Koloen won’t be out of the leather industry for long. When she and her husband finish their current orders in the next few months, she’ll start with another vegetable-method tannery based in Pennsylvania, which has stayed afloat by employing more upgraded and progressive techniques.

— Eunice Lee

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P.T. Dessero
0 #1 P.T. Dessero 2011-09-17 20:05:48
I bought leather sides fron this Tannery back in the 79's and 8o's. This company made one of the best leathers I used. I am sorry to hear this. I am retired now but still know people who are new in this business. I would like to be informed when they start there new adventure. I can be reached at email below.
Your truly
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0 #2 Muir & McDonaldGuest 2012-08-18 23:19:24
Hello P.T. Dessero,

Both Lisa Koloen and Eldon Bevens passed away within the last two years. The Tannery is still in the process of being sold and likely demolished. Sad end to an era.
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+1 #3 RE: Historic Oregon tannery shuts downGuest 2013-01-13 02:36:56
I am living in the Kansas City aarea - but am from Monmouth-Dallas area. Have a nice new belt buckle that needs a belt - the custom shop here is a big fan of Muir McDonald, and has a small stash of leather that he thinks we can make into a nice belt. Sad this has come to an end.
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0 #4 BeltGuest 2013-01-13 04:12:13
Glad to know that there is still a bit of leather out there being used. I hope you get a great belt out of it!
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0 #5 Looking for the new shopGuest 2013-03-03 03:08:24
Does anyone know if these folks opened a new shop?
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+1 #6 RE: Historic Oregon tannery shuts downGuest 2014-05-27 20:51:39
I'm working with my boss on tearing it down right now and selling the beautiful wood from it
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