In the last 35 years, Fayetteville has grown by leaps and bounds, and nowhere has Fayetteville’s spirit of growth and rebirth been more visible than on Dickson Street. Since 1975, when Bruce Walker first opened the Flying Possum at 526 W. Dickson, the street has reinvented itself several times over. The Flying Possum was one of the few locations on Dickson Street to remain unchanged in 35 years and remain true to the original spirit of the community. No matter the construction, demolition, changing crowd or feel of the street, you could always count on walking past the Flying Possum and seeing the familiar sight of Bugsy in the window and the scent of leather wafting from the open door.
March 7 marked the one-year anniversary of the fire that destroyed the Flying Possum leather store on Dickson Street and took the life of its iconic owner. This March, Bruce’s brother, Bob Walker will be reopening the Flying Possum. Bob Walker’s history in leather-working began in 1971 when he settled in Chico, Calif., after serving in the Navy. At the new location at 33 Block Ave., Bob is busy at work restoring his brother’s legacy of leather-working in Fayetteville.
Bruce’s easy way of chatting with people and making them comfortable in his store was no accident. Both Bruce and Bob had been raised working in the grocery business and “greeting the public,” says Bob, who opened his own leather shop in Chico in 1971. When Bruce visited him in 1973, he too was bitten by the leather-working bug. While Bob is quick to point out that he did not teach Bruce all he knew about leather, he does take some credit for putting his brother on the road that led him to opening the Flying Possum in 1976. In an interesting bit of coincidence, Bob’s store sustained a fire in 1973, and a photo that hung in his store survived the fire, made it to the Flying Possum store in Fayetteville, where it survived last year’s fire as well. The photo will hang in the new Flying Possum.
Of the decision to move the location, Walker said that the Dickson Street location’s cost to lease and
parking were wrong for what he wanted to do with the new store, and the location on Block Avenue is the right place to start fresh. Bob hopes that his proximity to more shopping and fewer bars will be better for the retail store and is especially excited about his proximity to Fayetteville’s Farmers’ Market. Walker said he hopes to be open at the end of the month, to coincide with the first days of the farmer’s market, and to be fully stocked for business by May.
The new location will sell custom sandals as well as Birkenstocks, belts, and Bruce’s patented guitar straps. Walker also said that the new location “will repair all Flying Possum footwear” that may need it. Another passion of Bob’s is teaching, and he is very eager to pass on his knowledge and passion for leather to an apprentice or apprentices.
Of course the story of Flying Possum is not complete without checking in on Bugsy, Bruce’s shop dog who
is just as much of a celebrity and beloved member of the Dickson Street community as his former owner. In the days after the fire, the Fayetteville Animal Shelter was flooded with calls from people worried about Bugsy and offering to adopt him. Bob decided that the best home for Bugsy would be with Bill Jett, a longtime friend of Bruce’s and employee at Condom Sense. The two can be found most days running errands and taking care of business in Bill’s store, where the eleven-year-old mixed breed fulfills his duties as unofficial mascot of Dickson Street.
As for the original Flying Possum location, it has been leased to Chris and Sarah Varga, the owners of Ryleigh’s and Sideways, and according to reports, the two are planning a bar for the location. Neither owner could be reached for comment, but rumor has it that the bar could be named after Bugsy, here’s hoping it’s true!