Davy Joel Rippner, now based on South Pender Island (leathersmithe.com), has been creating handmade leather goods since 1957 and during the early ’70s operated his own shop, The Good Earth, at Third Street and Lonsdale Avenue. He talked to the North Shore News about life and times back in the day.
North Shore News: Your first leather shop was part of the Psychedelic Shop on Fourth with Doug Hawthorne?
Davy Joel Rippner: Yes, that was the first one. Doug Hawthorne was a guy who originally had a sandwich shop on Fourth Avenue and that was the Blind Owl which closed down when we opened the Psychedelic Shop.
North Shore News: And he was involved with the Trips Festivals?
Davy Joel Rippner: He brought the Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead.
North Shore News: You opened your second shop near Lions Gate Bridge. Why did you move to the North Shore?
Davy Joel Rippner: I wanted my own shop. I’d sort of gone into a casual partnership with Doug and another guy to open the Psychedelic Shop and so I had a little tiny shop inside of it made up of doors that I had put together to enclose an area in the shop which was posters and incense and that kind of thing. And a comic book stand — San Francisco comics, underground comics. I had a little space in there and after the first summer I had made enough money to travel so I left and closed that place down. I was away for almost a year and went around the world and when I came back and I was looking around for a new place that wouldn’t be in competition with Gastown which was just starting to emerge. I don’t remember what was going on on Fourth Avenue I think I just wanted to strike out on my own. I opened a shop right next to the bridge where there were two or three other craft places. I had that place only for a year and I wanted something bigger so I moved on to the foot of Lonsdale.
North Shore News: When you were near Lions Gate Bridge you were right on Marine Drive? You were on the north side?
Davy Joel Rippner: That’s right. Right next to the bridge. You could step out of the front door and look up at the bridge to the right.
North Shore News: Pierre Coupey mentions your name in an interview he did for a special issue on Moodyville put together by the Capilano Review and Presentation House Gallery in 2009. He said, “The North Shore became important to me well before I came to Cap because my friend David Rippner, one of those hippie refugees from the States at the time of the Vietnam War, who brought the California ’60s energy and excitement with him. Davy was famous on the 4th Avenue Kitisilano scene, and later on Lower Lonsdale as The Leathersmithe — he made sandals, belts, vests, and artsy leather stuff, a guy with humour and the best American openness — cheerful, positive and razor smart. So when Davy and his girlfriend moved shop to Lower Lonsdale from 4th Avenue, my family and friends finally had a reason, for the first time, to cross the bridge. And going into North Van seemed like going into the wild, a trek to some mysterious, far place, like Nepal or Tibet.” How did you meet Pierre?
Davy Joel Rippner: When I first came to Canada I was escaping the draft I did not want to go to Vietnam. I made a trial trip to Canada — it’s kind of a long story — but it was following a woman who my closest friend had been abandoned by. She left us in the middle of the night in a donut shop in the Haight Ashbury that stayed open all night making donuts. I think it was like two or three in the morning and she got angry at us and stormed off and hitchhiked, six or seven months pregnant with a big German Shepherd, to Canada. She was a Canadian. We followed her and she ended up at Pierre’s house. Pierre was an instructor at UBC at that time and they were old friends. Pierre and I became close friends and when I eventually moved up almost a year later December of 1966 he made arrangements for me to pull my Volkswagen van into the snowy backyard. My girlfriend and I and cat lived with Pierre and his family until we found a place to rent.
North Shore News: The Trips festival must have been shortly after that.
Davy Joel Rippner: The one I recollect, which was a three-day one, when the Airplane came was while I was still on Fourth Avenue because Doug brought bands in all the time into the Psychedelic Shop. He brought the Grateful Dead through one afternoon. Pigpen wanted to buy the hat that I was wearing that I had made and I said I would make him one.
North Shore News: When you say you were in Haight Ashbury did you see them down there as well?
Davy Joel Rippner: I did, in fact, my girlfriend and I got a ride with them back to where we were living in Mill Valley after a great impromptu free open air concert on the back of a flatbed truck on the panhandle of Golden Gate Park which meets with a grassy area that goes through the beginning and middle of the Haight Ashbury. There was a grassy area between both sides of the street big enough to pull a flatbed on and the Dead was playing there. There may have been 50 people in the audience, just dancing in the sun. Then Janis Joplin with Big Brother and the Holding Company performed on this little stage. And they were just local bands. I got a ride with them back over to Sausalito I guess it was. We talked and my girlfriend said, “Hey you guys in a band?” It was a Big Willy's car that had bench seats along both sides so four people could sit across from each other. We rode back and just talked about the concert and then she said “Are you guys in a band?” because they looked familiar and Micky Hart the drummer said “Yea, we’re the Grateful Dead.” But they were not known at all they were just starting out.
North Shore News: Did you spend a lot of time in Haight Ashbury?
Davy Joel Rippner: Not as much as I wanted to but I was there the year before and I had a girlfriend who lived there. On the way up to Canada we stopped and spent a couple of weeks there hanging out on the street. It was a hard to identify phenomenon with a very diverse population, different colours, different styles and it was a standout location but it certainly wasn’t on the map yet.
North Shore News: What was Lower Lonsdale like at the time?
Davy Joel Rippner: Dead. Very dead. I guess you would call it a marine community at the very foot. We were on Third and Lonsdale. There wasn’t much going on. We were across from the Salvation Army. There was a famous old bookstore that was our next door neighbour that people still talk about. There was a Chinese restaurant.There just wasn’t very much else. Through those years I always found the kind of places that were always on the edge, certainly pre-gentrification and cheap rent.
North Shore News: What was your shop like at the time?
Davy Joel Rippner: It was one of these paired buildings — two shops and you had a little alcove that you could walk in. There was a big picture window out onto the street and then there’s an angled entrance and a little wall between the two shops and another angled entrance sort of forming a portico that you walk into and there would be things in between the shop, maybe a four-foot wide area or a six-foot where posters were hung and then the two doors leading into his shop the bookstore and The Good Earth. Because I was friendly with people from the mudflats and my partners lived there on the mudflats — that would be Dan and Wendy Clemons— we were taken into that little subculture of DeLuxe Carpenters. After a couple of years there with the store I worked with DeLuxe doing renovations and then we put on Pleasure Faires later on but at that time DeLuxe showed up at the store with Wendy and Dan and they had truckloads literally of ticky tacky from the taking apart of Seventh Avenue which was a sloping hill then covered with ramshackle buildings and lots of Victorian stuff. One of the guys at the mudflats, Willie (Wilson), was a collector and he had amassed three warehouses full of ticky tacky Victorian teardowns. That was how DeLuxe got its start. They would go and they would tear down these places and take away whatever they wanted and so inside this long but little shop was one whole wall that looked like a little Victorian town. It had what looked like house fronts covered with Victorian materials mostly from the Seventh Avenue area. Are you familiar with that slope that goes down to the water beyond the Granville Street Bridge. That’s where all the Victorian stuff came from. They tore it down and brought it over and put lots of it along a wall and the facing wall was covered with bags, belts and I guess we made some clothes there and then I had an area that was samples of shoes and sandals. Because I was involved with Dan and Wendy I was down in the mudflats often too because that was the beginning of that little subculture. I’ll tell you some other people who were involved in that. I’d see Paul Spong at the store and at the mudflats because there were always social gatherings at the mudflats.
North Shore News: How did you meet Wendy and Dan?
Davy Joel Rippner: I can’t remember how precisely but when I opened up the little shop next to the bridge they came for the grand opening which wasn’t very grand because it was a small place and there weren’t that many people who would come over from the other side. It was a big trip over from Fourth Avenue going all the way to the North Shore. They came over for the grand opening and gave me a shop-warming gift of a potted pot plant. I guess we had met each other and they knew I was in the leather business and they were in the leather business too. Dan and Wendy were making bags at that time. That’s how relationship started up and we would see each other now and then at public get-togethers. And when the time came and I located this other shop they were keen to go into a partnership. And because they lived so close by on the mudflats.
North Shore News: They were leathersmiths as well. I didn’t realize that I thought they were more into carpentry.
Davy Joel Rippner: No carpentry was a way to fill the time between leather season which was warmer weather when people are out spending money and to get us over the hump periodically we were able to do renovations and teardown jobs.
North Shore News: Where did you do most of the renovations? All over the city?
Davy Joel Rippner: Mostly Vancouver and a lot of it came from Willie’s finds in those three big warehouses.
North Shore News: Willie and the Clemons lived on the mudflats.
Davy Joel Rippner: Yes and I would say another eight to 10 people.
North Shore News: And Tom Burrows lived there.
Davy Joel Rippner: Yes Tom built a nice house there I used to go visit him.
North Shore News: Were some of the houses built by DeLuxe?
Davy Joel Rippner: DeLuxe was a loose group. Members of DeLuxe lived there. Except for me. My lifestyle was not as rustic as theirs and I did want electricity and I did wanted to be able to get away from the scene in the evening and charge my batteries. I had a girlfriend and my parents came to visit and my brother was living there and my brother was living there and somebody was living in a treehouse outback so we had our own little scene there.
North Shore News: And you were from California right?
Davy Joel Rippner: I’m originally from Ohio but I was in Sausalito when I got my … For five years I had been hounded by the draft and I kept out of the draft by staying in school. I was a graduate student in an art program and they finally said, “We don’t care what you’re doing we need fresh meat.” That’s when I left and that was in ’66.
North Shore News: How long were you involved with DeLuxe?
Davy Joel Rippner: That started in the spring of ’68 and I left in ’75. After that I moved to Victoria and started a business there.
North Shore News: Were you involved in building any of the houses at the mudflats or were they already there?
Davy Joel Rippner: No, I may have helped out but I was very busy with The Good Earth. That was a full time thing.
North Shore News: One of the houses looked like it had a crow’s next from a pirate ship.
Davy Joel Rippner: There was a lot of that kind of thing. Somewhere between ships or people’s ideas of what ships may have looked like once. But they had to be substantial, that’s a rainy area and so they had to weather the rough winters. That’s right across the street from the refinery.
North Shore News: Did you know Al Clapp at all?
Davy Joel Rippner: Sure. Al Clapp was active in not just things DeLuxe did but he was involved in I think everything that we did.
North Shore News: Was he part of the organization?
Davy Joel Rippner: You should probably call it a disorganization. He was a frontman. He helped us with connections. We didn’t have much to offer. Every thing that we did people took us on faith because we were very loosely-knit, we were anti-establishment, clearly so but we had some good mouths. Dan Clemons could talk anybody into anything. He was a very convincing guy and so he got on very well with Al who had those characteristics too. Plus Al had a lot of connections.
North Shore News: Your website is really extensive. It has quite a lot of historical information and photographs.
Davy Joel Rippner: Yea and I’m just getting started. I’m in the process of building a tutorial so I can pass along my particular skill and design of the Lord and the Lady of the Rings which is the sandal design I’ve been making since 1970 — since The Good Earth.
For more see accompanying story: http://www.nsnews.com/entertainment/dossier/squatters-recycled-utopian-dreams-on-the-maplewood-mudflats-1.1213052