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Famed Owatonna tannery back in business

  • Article by: DOUG SMITH
  • Star Tribune
  • December 18, 2012 - 8:25 PM

A famed 108-year-old Owatonna tannery is back in business.

And thousands of hides sent to the company by hunters last year no longer are in limbo.

"We're working on the backlog, and some of those hides are coming out right now,'' said Lanny Uber, whose family ran Uber Tanning Co. for six generations. He sold it in 2006, but the new owner ran into financial problems and closed the business last summer, filing for personal bankruptcy.

Thousands of hides have been in storage since then, to the dismay of hunters from Minnesota and around the nation who feared they would be lost or ruined.

Uber completed a deal in October to buy the company from a local bank and is rehiring workers at two Owatonna facilities -- a tannery and a manufacturing plant -- and completing orders to tan the hides and produce custom gloves, jackets, vests and accessories.

Uber is operating under the name Century Leather Products and isn't sure yet if he'll revert to the familiar family name. He said it will take months to complete the work.

"Quite a few people have been calling and inquiring,'' he said. "They primarily ask if their hides are still here.''

Uber said he is able to look up items in the company records and give customers an approximate completion date.

"People have been very supportive,'' he said.

Uber said he has no doubt the business can be successful again -- it had been since Adolph Uber settled in Owatonna in 1904 and opened a tannery. The Uber family business has roots going back to 18th-century Prussia.

Lanny Uber said he's getting plenty of new work from hunters this fall.

"I'm not worried about that,'' he said.

The bigger problem is trying to do two years' worth of hides in one year. "We've got quite a backlog,'' he said. About 700 hunters had paid up front for their orders.

Uber was one of the only companies where a hunter could send in a hide and get the same one back as a finished leather product.

"On a good year, the tannery would run upwards of 20,000 deer hides a year; at least half of those would be custom hides [from individuals],'' Uber said.

"People are definitely happy,'' he said. Many hunters told Uber the hides they sent the company had sentimental value.

"It was maybe someone's first deer, or someone's last deer,'' Uber said.

Customers who had hides at the bankrupt company should contact Uber at 507-451-0762. He has yet to replace the old firm's website, but plans to eventually.

"We just haven't had time,'' he said.

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