Imagine Williamsport in the late 1800s, back when oil lamps outnumbered light bulbs and people traveled by horse-drawn carriages. That’s when Willard’s Saddlery, known then as the “Williamsport Saddlery Co.” first opened its doors to business. More than a century later, the retailer is still in operation. “When Willard’s started in 1897, it catered to a community that relied on horses for transportation. We sold a lot of bridles, harnesses, and saddles,” says Ron Quigley, who owns and operates Willard’s Saddlery with his wife, Sue.
But by 1940, automobiles had replaced horses, and Willard’s Saddlery stopped selling equestrian goods. “We evolved our product line with the times,” Ron says. “Now we focus on first-quality leather goods instead of saddles.” From wallets and boots to briefcases and jackets, leather is Willard’s best-selling product.
“We feature a line of ladies’ handbags and men’s leather belts made right here in Williamsport by Tory Leather,” Sue says. Willard’s offers as many American-made products as possible, especially from companies that have withstood the test of time.
“We carry Carhartt and Pendelton, both American brands that have been around since 1889. We have apparel by Filson, a Seattle-based outdoor clothing company that started in 1897,” Ron adds.
The 9,000-square foot operation sells a lot more than just leather. Willard’s stocks blankets, clocks, jewelry boxes, and even iPhone accessories. Due to recent demand, they also started carrying flame-resistant clothing. “When a customer comes in and can’t find something, we try to get it for them,” Ron says.
Nor does Willard’s charge for specialty orders, gift wrap, or personalization. “It’s about keeping the customers happy and doing extra things like that,” Sue says.
So when a customer wanted a personalized clock with a brass plate engraved with the message, “The gift of time,” it was done. “We also burn or inlay leather with gold or silver. We can do names and messages. We personalize a lot of products for retirement celebrations and anniversaries, all free of charge,” Ron says.
The Quigleys say they owe Willard’s longevity to the quality of their products and their emphasis on customer service. “We don’t try to compete with the discounters,” Ron says. “We do an upscale operation.”
“Our customers are our friends,” Sue says. “When they come in we ask about their children and grandchildren. We keep toys behind the counter for the kids to play with.”
Although the Quigleys aren’t related to the original owners, Willard’s Saddlery has stayed in the same family since Sue’s father bought the business in 1968. Sue and Ron took over the business shortly thereafter.“We’ve been running it for over forty-five years,” says Ron.
“Our daughters grew up in the business and now they bring in their children. We set up their Pack ’n Play and I get to see my four grandchildren almost every day,” Sue says. “I love it.”
After graduating from Lycoming College, the Quigleys’ two daughters decided to stay in the area to help with Willard’s Saddlery.“ We’re absolutely thrilled our daughters took an interest in the family business. They’re a big help, especially with the buying,” Sue says.
Willard’s Saddlery offers two floors of a variety of designer merchandise. The Vera Bradley line recently has exploded in popularity, although Willard’s has been carrying the designer for over twenty years. “The wives shop for Vera Bradley purses downstairs while their husbands shop for hunting and fishing gear upstairs,” Sue says.
About 75 percent of their business comes from locals and people in surrounding areas like Danville and State College. Little League season brings a repeat influx of additional customers. “Retail isn’t as easy as people think,” Sue says, laughing. “But it can be a lot of fun, too.” The most hectic time for Willard’s is the Christmas season, when the store does the most business. “That’s by far our busiest time of the year, and we do a lot of advertising,” Ron says. “We only close for Christmas day because the day after Christmas is just as busy as the day before.”
Despite the challenges of retail, it’s easy to see that the Quigleys love what they do for a living. In Williamsport, where big box stores and retail chains are plentiful, homegrown Willard’s Saddlery is a unique asset.
“We really try to give back to the community. Every year we raise money and donate to charitable causes like research for children’s illnesses,” Sue says.
“Buying something from the Internet doesn’t support the community. Small businesses like ours support the community,” Ron adds
“Williamsport is just a nice area with lots of wildlife,” Sue says. “I saw a deer on the way to work this morning. The town is small enough that you really get to know people.”
When asked to describe his favorite part about Williamsport, Ron answers simply: “It’s home.”