The year was 1895. James Churchill had traveled by wagon to Centralia from Ontario, Canada, with the intent to sell crockery as he was looking for land to buy. Then he realized logging was king and there were lumber mills about every three miles in the area. Inspiration struck – where there were mills, there were men needing gloves to protect their hands. Soon he was trading his crockery to ranchers and American Indians for deer hides, which he then painstakingly turned into gloves. Thus began James Churchill Glove Co., one of the oldest, if not the oldest, businesses in Lewis County. It became N. Churchill Manufacturing Company Inc. in 1956 when they incorporated, and is now known as James Churchill Glove Co. The retail side is JRC Glove Company.
James purchased a building on Gold Street and had it moved to Maple Street. Then in 1946 his son, Niles, built the brick facility where the business is now housed on Pearl Street. James ran a very successful glove company until his death in 1932.
Niles took over the business in 1932 until 1968 when his son, Jim, came home after serving in the Marines. Jim had visions of his sons, Mike and Andy, taking over some day. “I wasn’t planning on coming into the business,” says Mike. “But dad gave me two choices – go into the Marines or he would pay for college. So I graduated in 1988 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration. I thought I’d give it a try.”
“I was full of brilliant ideas, just like any young graduate. But dad told me I had to learn how to do things his way first. So I had to type up invoices using carbon paper. It was awful when I made a mistake,” he laughs. “But the first thing I had to do was make sure all the suppliers were paid within 30 days. Dad said I had to be able to do that successfully before I could take over any more of the business. If you take care of your leather suppliers, they will always take care of you.”
“There’s a lot of history with this place, we still have some of the old artifacts,” says Mike. “When I came in, it was a legacy. I wanted to see if I could keep it going. Things have changed a lot. Dad used to keep a mailing list to send out catalogs, now we put a PDF catalog online. When I was in college, we didn’t study foreign competition, we focused on local competition. But now we do a lot of exporting.
In 2009, 2010 and 2011, things were slow, but good times are coming back now. We went from 30% in exports last year to 35% this year. The internet really changed things, it’s where it’s at. We picked up two accounts from Russia recently. We have accounts in Switzerland, Australia, Taiwan, Germany, France and the U.K. It’s very global. We do very little business in our own state. We do more in Colorado, California, Texas, Montana.”
There are several reasons Churchill does business in those states. For one, they have sales representatives there. They provide gloves for bull riders in the Pro Bull Rodeo Circuit. “The kids see our gloves on those top guys and it’s great publicity,” smiles Mike. Churchill also makes beautiful motorcycle gloves, selling in some of the largest Harley dealerships in California. And they provided the actor’s gloves for the show “Sons of Anarchy” on FX channel. “The guys kept taking our gloves home, so the studio had to keep ordering more,” laughs Mike. Churchill has also made gloves for celebrities such as Shaquille O’Neal and Terry Bradshaw.
One thing that hasn’t changed in 120 years, however, is the quality of the gloves. They are all hand-made right there on Pearl Street. Mike’s brother, Andy, who also helps in the business, sits and sews gloves along with the rest of the employees. “He’s also great at fixing the old sewing machines,” brags Mike. “He can fix anything.”
Complete gloves are placed on heated forms to finish the look. “It’s really hot in the summer,” laughs Mike, as that is part of his job. His sister-in-law inspects every single glove, then tries on the gloves, making sure each glove fits correctly, and has Mike or one of the others try on the bigger gloves as part of the inspection process. It is a true family business. At the moment, none of Mike’s children express interest in joining the business. “Not yet anyway,” he says with a smile.
“I bet that if anyone had asked my great grandfather back in 1895 if he thought his business would still be going in 2017, he would have said no,” says Mike. “But if my kids aren’t interested, I’ll keep it going as long as I can.”
To find Churchill gloves locally, simply go to their building located at 544 N. Pearl Street, Centralia, give them a call at 800-841-1411, or visit online at either www.FeelTheRide.com or http://www.jrcglove.com/.