“I am an artist. For me to not create every day, to not make something, something is missing. I must create.”
And for that voice with a name like “Mountain Mike,” certain expectations must follow. Looking the part, complete with beard, longer hair and well-worn hands that look strong enough to have wrestled a mountain lion or subdued a bear, is a must; some city slicker in a three-piece suit just won’t cut it.
Second, walk the talk; live in a teepee, hunt with a bowie knife, and learn to work the land and live with nature in perfect harmony. Being adopted by a tribe of Tlingit Indians will also enhance one’s credibility. The take-away is that Mountain Mike has earned his name.
Mountain Mike Allen was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico, but the family relocated to east San Diego when he was 2. Mike came from artistic roots. “My mother was an artist and a designer, cutting edge in a lot of different fields, especially for women,” he said, “She was very much what you would call a creator artist and I am one as well.”
Not content to simply wear leather, Mike would cut up old jackets from thrift stores and make his own. A member of the Boy Scouts of America from Cub Scout to Eagle Scout, he learned many of the skills that would allow him to live the life he loved — outdoors.
Idyllwild was familiar to him from an early age. “We hiked this mountain three times to the peak before I was 15 years old,” he said, pointing toward Tahquitz. “I’ve been coming here since the ’60s and it’s very, very dear to my heart. We’ve been coming up here since I was 4 years old.” Mountain Mike moved to Idyllwild in 1978.
Over the years there have been many versions of the store Mountain Mike has now owned for 18 years at 54360-1/2 N. Circle Dr. His first store, the White Buffalo Trading Post, was located in Village Lane. Partnering with other shopkeepers on three occasions, he has also had shops in the Fort and another shop, Truly Fine Custom Leather, behind the Idyllwild Water District years ago.
Nearly everything in Mountain Mike’s shop was created by him. “I don’t buy and resell. The only thing I buy and resell in here is the Baja shirts and the Baja blankets; that’s pretty much it,” he said proudly. “I custom-make the hats; this company has pre-formed hats you can buy but then they wouldn’t be mine. All of the shapes and styles you see, those are my shapes that I put in by hand without blocks.”
His custom leather work is among the finest available and his design ability landed him an enduring business partnership and friendship. Within 10 days of adding “Wholesale Outlet” to his shop sign, a couple would visit his shop with an interesting challenge. “We need this case and nobody can figure it out and we waited three months and this guy sent us this thing and we can’t use it at all, it’s junk,” he recalled them saying. The couple had traveled throughout Europe in search of a razor case. “I said, ‘What does it have to do?’ I went plop, plop, fizz, fizz and in 10 minutes I had it popped out. I said, ‘That’ll teach you to shop in your own backyard.’
“They were blown away that not only could I make it but I solved it and had the design figured out and everything. It’s one piece of leather, the whole thing.” The partnership would expand to include strops (leather razor sharpeners). Starting off with one strop design, the line Mountain Mike now produces numbers 26. He also has a shelf in the store dedicated to shaving products.
The latest addition to his already expansive product line is cologne. “I was selling all of this other aftershave cologne and what happened was the Bay Rum that I liked and was one of my best sellers, I couldn’t get it. It is the preferred scent in the world; I love it myself,” he said. “‘I’m a creator,’ I thought, ‘I can do this.’ This is basic chemistry. Sure, I’m a mountain man, but I am very diverse. I was gifted as a young kid by the Great Spirit with the intelligence to figure out stuff, so this is just one of those things.” The cologne is all natural and packaged in a glass bottle complete with a bay leaf and clove. “It gets better as it ages in the bottle; it’s like good liquor.”
The next step is to franchise Mountain Mike’s Custom Leather. “I will train [franchisees] on the method it takes to run a Mountain Mike’s Custom Leather Store. There’s a certain method to the madness that makes it work,” he explained. “It’s the way you are, kind of trying to dress the part. It’s being articulate. You can’t just sit behind the counter like a bump on a log and ring the cash register. You have to come out from behind the counter, you have to get with the people.” He believes strongly that the venture will succeed. “There will always, always, always be a call for quality. Don’t sell yourself short. The more quality you offer the fewer competitors you will have.”