From leather work to the Lord’s work: Greeley, Colo., craftsman closes shop to be full-time pastor
By Whitney Phillips
For the past two decades, Mark Fellini’s Old West Leather and Beads Company in Greeley, Colo., has been much more than a shop.
Fellini’s youngest daughter took her first steps on its now-worn wooden floors.
He met his wife, Amy, when she came for a repair.
His customers turned into friends as they sought supplies, advice and good conversation from Fellini, often pounding away on a piece of leather behind the saloon-style swinging doors of his workshop.
Twenty-six years after he opened the business at 102 18th St., Fellini is closing it for good — a decision based not on economics, but on his desire to play a different role in his community.
He’ll dedicate his time to working as the operations pastor at the Northern Colorado Cowboy Church in nearby Lucerne — a much bigger project in his eyes than his saddle work, chaps and belts.
“I love to see people’s lives change,” he said. “It’s incredible to be part of something that’s much bigger than I am.”
Fellini grew up in Henderson, where he remembers his 8-year-old self watching his older brother work on leather projects for shop class.
“I started emulating what he was doing and learning,” he said. “I just continued to do it.”
In 1988, Greeley seemed to be an ideal place for a saddle and tack repair shop, Fellini said, and he took the opportunity.
“I told everybody that I didn’t want to wake up when I was 50-years-old and always wonder what would have happened,” he said.
For him, it’s the idea of “instant gratification” in his craft that keeps his tools hard at work.
“I look at the works of my hands,” he said. “The thing that’s fascinating to me about a lot of this type of stuff is that computers can’t do this. It’s a dying art.”
Fellini’s work has seen many a big venue — in Colorado and across the country.
He has done work for the Greeley Stampede and taught leather work to 4-H groups. His chaps have gone with competitors to the National Finals Rodeo.
He even tooled the ornate saddle for the horse given to Colorado Rockies first baseman Todd Helton as a retirement gift last summer.
“When you craft something by hand, it’s your blood, sweat and tears that go into it, and it’s your personality,” he said.
Along with the artwork he’s created over the years, Fellini said he’s enjoyed watching customers become friends over chats in the store. He said he would even meet friends who were going through hard times at the shop late at night.
“The thing that’s cool about a small business like this is you get the opportunity to take the time to visit with (customers),” he said. “I’ve got friendships that will last me far beyond the period of time that the store’s open.”
One such friendship started in the late ’90s when Don Patch came into Fellini’s shop with a co-worker to get some supplies. He said he took a liking to leather work, and he’s been doing projects ever since.
“I would just go in and drink coffee, and I would just ask (Fellini) questions, and he’d help me with projects,” said Patch, now a commander at the Weld County Sheriff’s Office.
Patch said he often took his children into the shop, from the time they were babies in carriers to the time they were tall enough to tear things off shelves — something that Fellini never minded.
Fellini’s shop was a “home away from home,” a place to go on his days off to talk through anything from personal struggles to politics to rodeos, Patch said.
“Mark’s been a great sounding board when I’m going through a tough time,” Patch said.
It was never a quiet place, Patch said, with customers shuffling in and out from open to close.
He said he often watched Fellini offer everything from advice to the last $20 bill from his wallet to help someone out.
“You go in Mark’s store and, even if he doesn’t know you, he treats you like a friend,” he said.
Fellini’s also keen on practical jokes, Patch said, recalling watching Fellini laugh after sending a friend home with coveralls on which he’d sewn the legs shut.
Patch said he’s never purchased leather work supplies from another shop, and he’s sad to know his days at Old West Leather are limited.
Still, he said he understands Fellini’s decision, and he can see that his good friend is following another passion.
“It’s been a good, long run, and it’s truly the end of an era, but he’s starting a new one for himself,” Patch said.
Fellini has served for eight years as a worship pastor at the Northern Colorado Cowboy Church, 33131 U.S. 85. He said he was called to work as the operations pastor in October, a position that requires him to manage the day-to-day functions of the church.
He said he was drawn to the church because of its mission to reach out to people regardless of their background or station in life. He said he often sees farmers fresh in from chores, world-class cowboys and bikers in the same congregation.
“It’s more than just a church,” he said. “It’s a community. It’s a family. It’s about the word of God.”
Fellini said the decision to close the doors, likely at the end of March, was difficult, as the shop has been essentially a part of him.
Still, he said he’s always been focused more on the people around him, and he looks forward to continuing to do that at the Cowboy Church.
“I always felt like the business would take care of itself,” he said. “People are most important.”
Fellini said he’ll continue to work on leather projects at his own leisure.
“(Leather work) was a hobby that became my profession and, sometimes when that happens, some of the glimmer’s gone,” he said. “Right now I don’t have much for hobbies, and I’d love to have this as a hobby again.” ❖