Those of us who are firearm enthusiasts are usually interested in accessories. For the handgun, the most obvious addition is the holster. Without it, the gun is either carried in the hand, stuck in a pocket or waistband, or dropped on the ground. The hand is great, provided the situation warrants it. The waistband or ground is certainly less advantageous.
Those of us who have been shooting handguns for awhile are quite familiar with the legends of the holster—Chic Gaylord, Bruce Nelson, John Bianchi, Milt Sparks, Tex Shoemaker, Ted Blocker and Neal Perkins. They make us think back to a time when holsters were made from fine leather and everybody wore them. Today, thermoplastics like Kydex hold a sizeable part of the market, but there’s still nothing like the “take me home” look and feel of a finely-molded holster.
The Legacy of Lou Alessi’s Holsters
The name Lou Alessi certainly deserves a space alongside the names I’ve listed above. Luigi, as he was known to his friends, left us a few years ago and way too early, after a valiant battle with cancer. Lou was my friend and he’s greatly missed by all who knew him. Lou made holsters one at a time in his small shop, surrounded by employees who had been with him for many years. He had an interesting clientele that included government-types of both the military and intelligence arenas, but he still tried to meet the needs of law enforcement and legally armed citizens.
I walked into his shop one Sunday afternoon (he was technically closed) to find ASP baton holders and ankle rigs hanging from every portion of the ceiling and walls. “I’m trying to meet a contract for a state police agency. I probably took on a bit too much,” he told me as he shook his head. That was Lou Alessi, the master of the understatement!
After Lou’s death, his family sold the holster business and the new owner moved to another location. I never heard much more about them. Recently, I received a call from Skip Ritchie, Lou’s former partner (who had left to open another business). Skip told me he’d decided to go back into holsters. “Dave, I have Lou’s old shop and the same phone number. The place is laid out just like it was back in the old days. My brother Bob and I are now making some of the same designs plus some new stuff that Lou and I worked on but never got the time to introduce. I want to send you some stuff so you can see the quality is just as good as when Louie was here.”
Skip sent me a sampling of what he’s producing and I couldn’t help but notice that, when I opened the box, the same old smell of an Alessi holster greeted me. The fit and finish are still there and, because Skip is occupying the shop Lou spent almost 40 years in, it just seems like the rebirth of a legend in holster manufacturing.
Although Skip can’t call his holsters by the same name, the Alessi design and quality are apparent in each model. They’re functional, no nonsense holsters, using the finest shoulders and bends. The backs are selected for their smoothness to help eliminate holster drag, something that can be a problem with a tightly hand-boned leather rig. Each holster is individually molded to the specific gun they’re designed to carry by hand. All of the holsters are from those Skip designed or co-designed with Lou as well as the inspiration of other well known holster designers. Skip and Bob are proud of their line and are always striving to improve upon the concealment and functionality of their leather gun holsters. Being a small, three-man shop, they’re able to maintain stringent quality control in the manufacture of concealment leather which ensures that customers receive only the best leather holster(s) available because someday your life may depend on them.
The Ruger LCR Ankle Holster
The first model that was sent to me was a tried and true design—the ankle rig. I just happened to be wearing an Alessi ankle holster when I was almost killed by an armed robber so I’ve come to believe that the ankle rig is a poor choice for primary carry, but a good choice for backup. In my case, the robber ordered me at gunpoint to raise my hands, which placed my shooting hand as far from my gun as possible but still attached to my body–not good.
I wore my Alessi ankle rig for many years after that event for backup purposes only, and it served me well—even when running or climbing. The model I tested was for the new Ruger LCR and my opinion is that it’s as good as the original. The rig is one of the most comfortable and secure ankle holsters available; it uses a thick ½" felt backing that helps hold the gun in place while offering padding against the ankle bone. Made from black chrome, 8 oz. vegetable-tanned leather with a fully adjustable 2" leather reinforced Velcro band, the ankle rig is wet-molded and hand-boned to the specific weapon.
Close Quarters, Quick Release Models: CQ-QR, CQC & CQC-S
The Close Quarter-Quick Release (CQ-QR) rig was inspired by a holster in which I happened to be involved in the original design. In the mid-1990s, I was in Lou’s shop talking with him and Skip about holsters, and I had just made the mistake of telling Lou that he had made a few problems with his belt holster design. He looked at me a moment and then said, “OK, mother&*#@er, how would you design the damn thing?”
Because it was too late to back down, I pressed on and the ideas I gave him turned into what were later known as the CQC and CQC-S models. The CQ-QR was inspired by the snap-on or CQC-S holster. The easiest on/off outside the pants belt holster made, this rig offers the close ride of a pancake holster but the on-off convenience of a paddle rig. Snap belt loops located at the front and rear of the holster have low positioning and a flat back, making the holster both comfortable and concealable. Made of 8 oz. vegetable-tanned leather, the CQ-QR is also wet-molded and hand-boned to the specific weapon it’s designed to carry. This rig is one of the most copied holsters in existence, but few others execute it as well as Alessi. For example, the handgun must ride at a particular height in order to work with grip-heavy semi-automatics, and Alessi spent hours working this out. Before he died, he made sure to teach Skip how to correctly execute the design.
The Vertical Speed Scabbard
Alessi made a model called the DOJ (named for the California State Department of Justice, where Bruce was working for at the time). His current version of the DOJ is called the Vertical Speed Scabbard (VSS). This holster features a straight up draw which can be worn strong side or cross draw and is meant to be worn just forward of the hip. It hugs the body very close, and is highly concealable and comfortable. Also made of 8 oz. vegetable-tanned leather and wet-molded/hand boned to your specific weapon, the VSS is also available with a rear snap-on loop, which makes it easy to adjust on the belt.
Inside the Waistband Holsters: The Stakeout and Fatboy
Inside the waistband (IWB) holsters are, by far, the most concealable items in the catalogue as they place the gun inside the trouser band, hiding the majority of your pistol. Conversely, because they ride very close to the body, a properly designed rig is essential.
Ritchie Leather offers two models that are excellent. The Stakeout is the best IWB solution as it combines maximum concealment and comfort. This rig has a 15-degree forward cant and is made out of premium vegetable-tanned leather. It rides high and close to the body and is held in place via two one-way snaps and straps. The back of the holster is designed to be flat so the firearm isn’t pressing into the body, creating an uncomfortable pressure point. This unique design, which doesn’t use a reinforced mouth band, keeps the holster from collapsing once the gun is withdrawn. This provides for easy one hand reholstering, a feature that’s under rated by many. The other IWB that was sent for evaluation is new and doesn’t come from the original Alessi line.
The Fat Boy is a premium leather IWB holster designed to carry large pistols like the full-size 1911. It has a rough-out holster body of 7–8 oz. cowhide with a 7 oz. smooth-out reinforced mouth band/sweat shield that prevents holster collapse once the gun is withdrawn. This sweat shield is scalloped at the magazine release to permit a full grip when drawing so that no adjustment is needed to get on target fast. Like all Ritchie holsters, the rig is fully wet-molded and hand-boned for a superior fit.
Ritchie Leather makes a full line of holsters and belt intended for concealed carry. If you want the best, as well as a bit of history, I’d strongly recommend that you check them out.
For more information, call 716/691-6300 or visit www.ritchieholsters.com.