James Alford has been kicking it downstairs at Cabin Branch Tack Shop in Southern Pines for about 30 years now, repairing everything from saddles to leather boots and quite literally minding his own damn business.
He’s an OG craftsman, and according to one of his Google reviews “the coolest dude in downtown SoPo.” Because hadn’t been livin’ before, we went downstairs at Cabin Branch to chat with James about how he got his start, the time he repaired an elephant saddle and how he’s kept with his trade for almost 50 years.
Q: So, you’ve been at Cabin Branch for 30 years? Is that how long you’ve been doing tack work?
Oh, naw. I’ve been doin’ this since I was 14. I started working after school at the tack shop at Pinehurst Harness Track. I started stocking the shelves, you know? I learned about all the different buckles and the different kinds of tack gear. I worked there after school, on breaks from school and then after high school, started working full time. I learned how to hand stitch. Cabin Branch offered me some more money, so I came here and I been here since.
Q: Do you still hand stitch, or is any fancy machinery involved.
Hand stitching is the only way to do it right. I hand stitched then, and I still hand stitch. There’s all kinds of ways to cut corners now, but I stick to what I know.
Q: Speaking of what you know, why have you stayed with this trade for so long?
I just … I just like the work. Tack work is always changing. Things go out of style, other things come in style — there’s always somethin’ new to learn.
Q: You’ve been hanging out down here for a long time — what do you do to mix things up? Do you listen to music, or just stick to the task at hand?
Yeah, I’ll listen to some music, but I mostly just take a look at the piece that needs to be repaired, visualize what I need to do to fix it and just do it. Oh, but I do like to talk to folks while I work. Seems like people just come down here to talk to me sometimes, but I don’t mind it.
Q: You work with equestrian gear — do you ride horses?
Naw, you won’t catch me ridin’ one. I just fix their saddles and harnesses.
Q: What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever had to repair?
Someone brought me an elephant saddle one time. Not sure where he was ridin’ elephants, but it was pretty big.
Q: Were you able to fix it?
Oh, yeah. Just did the same thing I always do — looked at it, figured out what I needed to do and just got to work.
Q: We respect it James. We respect it. You have plans to retire any time soon?
Naw. I cut back my days from seven days a week, but I’ll be down here Tuesday through Saturday.
You heard the man. Whether you need some work done or just want to chat, you can find James at Cabin Branch Tack shop on 232 SW Broad Street Tuesday through Saturday.