Doghouse Leathers, the Capitol Hill leather and kink institution that started 13 years ago in the bathroom of leather and kink bar The Cuff, finally has a new home. After a 16-month overhaul of the 108-year old former Neal Apartments building, Doghouse Leathers — motto: “Men are pigs, give them what they want” — is back in business in a new storefront space on E Pike.
It might not exactly look like it when you peer through the brand new window displays of the store, but the shop is already open in its new home. For the next couple of weeks, there will probably still be some boxes on the ground, some racks still empty. Jeff “Daddy” Henness, who owns and runs the store with husband Dan “Puppy” Daniels, still has some serious unpacking to do before the shop’s official opening celebration — Father’s Day.
“This gives us time to get everything unpacked and rearrange things at least once,” Henness said during a recent visit, sitting on a folding chair near racks full of pleather boxer shorts and “Nasty Pig” sports underwear. That won’t be easy or quick, considering the store has over 12,000 pairs of underwear, 500 pairs of socks, as many hats, and hundreds of whips, leather harnesses, and sex toys.
The work of getting everything set up pales in comparison to the 16-month renovation of the 3, 600 square foot retail space. “You should have seen this space when we walked in,” Henness said. “It was a nightmare. It’s an old building, there hasn’t been any business in here since 1962.” That year, furniture repair and cabinet maker A Buono Construction & Cabinet, which had occupied the space for decades, moved to another building on the Hill. In the ensuing years, Henness said, the E Pike building was used as a construction office or stood empty.
“For years, all we saw was a fenced gate. When I’m describing where [the new Doghouse Leathers] is to people they say: ‘I don’t remember anything being there.’ You wouldn’t, yeah. There [was] nothing. You walked past it.”
The 108-year-old building, located on a key E Pike block sandwiched by Saint John’s and Stitches on one side and Babeland on the other, and the recently sold Pike Motorworks development across the street, was one of the few remaining auto row-era structures that hadn’t been transformed or upgraded for the new Pike/Pine.
“We wanted to preserve as much as we could, hence the exposure of brick walls and plaster up there,” Henness said, gesturing to columns of exposed masonry reaching to the high ceiling.
Before the renovation, Henness also looked into preserving the old stage found in the back of the building, which was said to have been home to a 1920s burlesque show venue. He enlisted the Capitol Hill Historical Society for research help, but Henness said they found no evidence supporting the burlesque stories. Instead, they found the space had been built to house a silent movie theatre but became an automobile tire shop instead. The stage didn’t have much historical value, he said. It just meant he had to remove a lot of rotten wood.
Even though he’s had to put in much more work and money into the 108-year old space, Henness said it was all worth it. No “sterile, cookie-cutter” construction for Doghouse Leathers. They wanted a building with character, and most importantly, to stay on the Hill. Even though the LGBT population declined by 23% between 2000 and 2012, according to some counts, and the neighborhood has changed dramatically, Henness said Capitol Hill is still worthy of being called the gayborhood: “It’s still very gay,” he said.
Doghouse has been a Pike/Pine LGBTQ and kink survivor, providing custom leather and fetish gear as well as a space for community and activist groups for over a decade, even as competitors have moved in and others have faded away. Henness started the shop in a 42-square feet bathroom of Capitol Hill leather and kink bar The Cuff in the mid-2000s. In 2010, Henness moved Doghouse into a new home on E Pike at 14th. In 2015, the busy store expanded after the neighboring vacuum shop shut down after 50 years of service. Henness had been looking for a new location since he heard about development plans for the building, which would replace the existing structure with a 6-story, 38 unit apartment building with street-level retail.
The leather shop is also, by the way, one of CHS’s longest running advertisers.
Now, Doghouse is ready for another E Pike chapter, in the company of new neighbors, and some kindred spirits like sex/kink stores Castle and Babeland, as well as bathhouses Steamworks and Club Z. And: with much more floor space, a larger, brand-new conference room and larger craft area, which fits about six sewing machines and three full-time employees who make many of the straps, harnesses, and bondage gear sold in the store.
“I had a small space for the last couple of years, and people would stumble over each other,” Henness said, as movers carried in new crafting tables and sewing machines as well as a new press for cutting leather and setting rivets for the new craft workshop. The adjacent conference room, located at the back of the shop, is ADA accessible and fits at least 20 people, which allows for groups such as a recovery group for kinky people, leather, and puppy groups to meet in the space more easily, Henness said. “We’ll be able to do so much more for the community.”
Doghouse Leathers is now open at 715 E Pike. You can learn more at doghouseleathers.com.
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