Going to the Greentree Festival is an annual tradition for lots of Kirkwood folks. Standing in line for up to an hour for a personalized leather bracelet is another.
Fred Hawkins, 76, has been making and selling the popular wristbands at the Greentree Festival since 1974.
He sells other handmade leather items, such as belts, billfolds and key fobs. But for some reason, his $4 wristbands – stamped with the buyer’s name and a design such as a flower or a peace sign – is a hot commodity at Greentree every year.
“It just seems to be a Kirkwood thing,” Hawkins said. “The kids will stand in line for 45 minutes to an hour.”
The longtime Kirkwood resident and retired administrator said he expected to sell more than 300 wristbands over the course of the three-day event in . By contrast, he sold about 40 wristbands two weeks ago at a four-day festival in Independence, MO.
The Greentree Festival, in its 51st year, starts Friday at 5 p.m. and finishes up at 5 p.m. Sunday. It features entertainment, food, music, a folklife festival and a parade. The arts and crafts booths are open Saturday and Sunday.
Erin Anderson of Des Peres plans to visit Hawkins’ booth to buy a new leather bracelet, her third. She bought one when she was a teenager and a second one a couple of years ago with her two school-age daughters.
She said she didn’t mind waiting in line – while eating some kettle corn to pass the time.
“That’s part of the experience – I love it,” she said. She said she wants a bracelet with her daughters' names on it and a fleur de lis.
Hawkins said he used to travel to lots of craft shows but these days he’s whittled his list down to just seven. The Greentree Festival will be the last one he gives up, he said.
“The thing I like is this: I like to talk to people and I enjoy making things, so it works out to be a very relaxing thing for me,” he said.
He said he learned leather crafting in a high school class in 1951. Even when he was working for the Kirkwood school district as the assistant superintendent for finance, he spent much of his free time preparing for and traveling to craft shows.
For a time, Hawkins owned a leather shop in south St. Louis County. He still gets customers from the shop, as well as from craft shows and word-of-mouth. He handles custom orders throughout the year and makes much more intricate leather items than bracelets – including saddles, chaps, gun holsters and knife scabbards.
He’s even made a couple of guitar straps for Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Ernie Isley, who lives in St. Louis. For Isley, he hand carved roses into the straps.
At Greentree, Hawkins calls in reinforcements – family members and friends put in shifts to keep up with demand. Each wristband takes about five minutes to make, he said. He first measures the customer’s wrist, then stamps the bracelets with their name and a design they choose from one of his hundreds of stamps.
Then he dyes the wristband so that the design stands out.
He thinks his bracelets and belts and other leather items might be popular because so few young people, busy with computers and video games, have learned how to do leather crafting.
“It’s really a dying art,” he said. “There are too many other things to do.”