Simon Aardema, 47, got started as a leather craftsman early - at 17, right out of high school - and is celebrating 30 years in the leather manufacturing business.
One of Utah's finest holster makers and leather workers, Aardema was born in Holland and came to America in 1954 when he was 12. His parents settled in Salt Lake City and Aardema became an apprentice at the former J.W. Jenkins Saddle Shop that used to be at 428 S. State St.After eight years at the saddle shop, where he learned Old World leather skills and all the basic leather manufacturing techniques, Aardema started his own business next to his home in West Valley City.
In November 1988, Aardema opened a new manufacturing facility in an industrial center at 4260 S. Fifth West, Murray, where he has a large shop, storage space and a display area.
Aardema says he is lucky that his wife, Kathy, knows so much about his business and is able to help him with his bookkeeping and other chores. "She should know a lot about the leather business. We have been married 30 years and she has lived with the business through thick and thin."
He and his wife have four grown, married children, two sons and two daughters. A son, Dennis, 30, and a son-in-law, Wayne Winter, 22, work in his leather shop.
"There are enough people in the family, including grandchildren, to help out in just about every way imaginable in the business, from mailing out orders to painting our new display area," Aardema said.
In the past decade, Aardema said, there have been a host of non-leather materials used for holsters and belts, from nylon and plastic to rubber. "These materials won't ever do as good a job as leather will, nor will they be as beautiful nor as functional as leather," he said.
Aardema makes the holsters used by Freedom Arms to sheath that company's famous .54 Casull revolvers and the holsters for L.A.R. Manufacturing Co.'s Grizzly semi-automatic pistols. In addition, he makes holsters for every kind of handgun, rifle slings and scabbards, a variety of dress belts and gun belts and industrial leather products, such as tool pouches for U.S. West.
"I seem to have outlasted many of my contemporaries, especially the men from whom I learned the trade and who I worked with when I was a boy. I love working with leather and I expect there will always be a need for a leather craftsmen, even in the space age or the computer age or whatever age we get into," he said, smiling.
Aardema will display some of his leather working skills at the Crossroad of the West Gun Show Saturday and Sunday in the Salt Palace.