Sole Survivor making a move in Belleville

News-DemocratMarch 17, 2014 

Name: Steve Rye

Job: Owner, Sole Survivor at 25 E. Main St. in Belleville (234-0214)

Outlook: "It was just something that I just decided to do with the counter culture back then. It was something that was just part of the times and over the years it became a regular business and a regular job."

Steve Rye will soon relocate his leather goods and repair store Sole Survivor to its former spot in downtown Belleville. The business, which also includes an art gallery, will be moving from 25 E. Main St. back to 125 E. Main St. and recently a second store opened across the river in the Delmar Loop. Rye recently invited business writer Will Buss to his store to talk about is growing business:

Q: Where are you moving?

A: "Just a few steps down to 125 E. Main, which is confusing because we are at 25 E. Main."

Q: Why move?

A: We own that building and that's where we were for seven years before we moved up here. That also has to do also with opening in St. Louis because this is a big store here, where we're at, and my daughter will be down the street most of the time, even though my wife and I will still be there at times. We are now splitting us up between two locations, so we don't need as big of a space and it would be too much space for one person to keep a good eye on because we're also working as we're keeping a watch on the retail because we make almost everything here. The smaller space will be easier to control."

Q: When will you move?

A: "This month we will be open there by the end of the month, the first of April."

Q: Will your art gallery be part of the relocation?

A: "We will also continue our art gallery down the street, which used to be down the street, then we moved it up here eight months ago and it will still be part of the business down there throughout the first floor and the whole second floor. We will have the art gallery and there leather shop there."

Q: How long has the art gallery been a part of your business?

A: "About three-and-a-half years now, I think."

Q: Is there be any difference between you downtown Belleville store and the new St. Louis store?

A: "It's basically the same. We have shoes here that we sell that we get from other companies and we don't have that over there. We have the Naot brand of footwear that comes from Israel that we've handled for 20 years and we do not have those over in Delmar. We will have the Birkenstock brand, which we have here, we will have those over in Delmar. But those will probably be the only brand and the only item that we don't make over there. Ninety-nine percent of everything over there will be items that we make."

Q: How long have you been working with and creating items out of leather?

A: "I've been doing it since '68. My wife and I have been doing it together since '79. My daughter has worked here about eight years and has been around it all of her life."

Q: How long has Sole Survivor been around?

A: "Sole Survivor has been since about '85, I think, since we moved back to St. Louis."

Q: How did you get into this business?

A: "It was just something that I just decided to do with the counter culture back then. It was something that was just part of the times and over the years it became a regular business and a regular job."

Q: What are the range of items you make and repair with leather?

A: "We make lots of belts, lots of bags and purses and briefcases. We make moccasins, we make sandals, we make one-of-a-kind clothing pieces that you'll see spread throughout here. We do custom work at times."

Q: What are the most popular item you make or sell?

A: "Belts. The belts are the most popular thing. As far as custom work, you don't know what people want."

Q: What do you enjoy most about working in this business?

A: "I guess just making the items, making and designing the items. My daughter and I work together on that."

Q: So you have a second generation working in the business?

A: "At the moment. My son was here until last year. He had been involved since the age of 14 until 31. He did the business end with the computers and stuff a lot. Then finally last year, he wanted to expand his computer stuff and there was no more to do here and he took a job with a company being a tech person."

Contact reporter Will Buss at or 239-2526.

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