Open the door to Ted Blocker Holsters, and the smell of fresh leather hits immediately, a rich musky invitation to an older era permeating the air.
One step inside transports visitors back through the decades to a land of handmade, painstaking, detail-by-finer-detail-craftsmanship where every belt, bag and holster is transformed from leather to finished product through a multi-step process that takes days to complete.
The Tigard-based company is celebrating 50 years of outfitting law enforcement agencies, Hollywood productions and gun aficionados around the globe with made-to-order pieces built for both beauty and function.
Though some holster styles have evolved to accommodate modern add-ons like laser sights that change a gun’s shape, the techniques and machinery used by Blocker’s master leatherworkers have remained virtually unchanged since the company’s namesake set up shop in 1972.
“The original owners were quick shooters,” said Phyllis Devine, who bought the business in 2020. “Ted Blocker was a quick-shooter, and so was his wife (Jean). Then Don and Shelly (Brown, the shop’s second owners) were also shooters.”
The Blockers weren’t just quick on the draw. They were the fastest on the planet in their heyday. Jean once set a world record that Ted shattered moments later during a televised competition at Knotts Berry Farm.
The couple parlayed their Southern California and show biz ties into relationships with area law enforcement and Hollywood studios that remain the core of Blocker’s business.
Studios brought their wares broad exposure. They’ve outfitted a couple of dozen productions, crafting holsters and accessories for everyone from Indiana Jones and Dirty Harry to fan-favorite Miami Vice’s Crocket and Tubbs, but the bulk of their orders come from real police.
The company supplies agencies around Los Angeles and the country.
“More than half of our business are police,” Devine said. “[Leather] is much more comfortable than the new modern hard plastics. Some guys will put on the plastics and can’t stand it. They’ll call us and say, ‘how quickly can I switch to leather? I’m dying.’”
Unlike plastic, which has no give, the leather breaks in and molds to fit the contours of its wearer.
“They absolutely love our stuff. It’s a status symbol. [At some agencies] when they become an officer, they say they immediately get a Ted Blocker holster,” she said.
Devine, who considers herself a more casual shooter than her predecessors, spent more than three decades homeschooling ten children. She began shopping for a business when the youngest, now 20 years old, was approaching graduation.
She was new to leatherwork but saw an opportunity for her family.
“I love it. I’ll work here long, long days,” she said. “I didn’t know I would like it so much, but I’ve always liked craft stuff. Quilting, and I’ve always liked sewing.”
Slowly, she’s picking up the trade from Blocker’s master leatherworkers, a father and son duo who make nearly everything she sells using specialty cobblers’ equipment, so old the manufacturers no longer make service calls.
The industrial sewing machines date back to at least the mid-20th century, and the splitter, a machine that shaves leather to the desired thickness, was originally powered by a steam engine before being converted to electricity.
“I know these things inside and out,” Jason Bankston said. “There’s no manual. You ain’t going to find a manual anywhere on this planet. If a part breaks, you have to make it yourself.”
Bankston had never worked with leather when he started at Blocker nearly 18-years-ago, but he fell for the craft and picked it up quickly.
“It’s very detailed work,” he said. “Over the years, we’ve had so many people come in and try, and they just don’t have it. You’ve got to see it in your head before you can make it. We’ve probably had two people in the last ten years who want to stay focused and do it.”
His son, Jeff Bankston, has an eye for the fine lines and intricate details and the steady hands to bring them to life. The younger Bankston followed his dad into the business when he turned 18.
Their work has shipped all over the world.
Most of Blocker’s products ship to customers far from Tigard, but the company has a small retail showroom at the shop with a limited stock of belts, holsters, suspenders, and shoulder rigs available.
Over-the-shoulder harnesses and concealment holders are the top sellers, said office manager Mallory Devine.
“We have a lot of people who come right from either Northwest Armory or Oregon Rifle Works,” she said. “We have a good relationship with both of those shops.”