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25 Top Custom Bootmakers
FROM TOP: A custom pair made by Rocketbuster
Boots in El Paso; a bootmaker works on a top at Arditti Footwear;
a vamp is fitted around a last at Arditti. Photography
by Wyatt McSpadden
BY JOE NICK PATOSKI
James Leddy Boots
1602 N. Treadaway Boulevard
The nephew of boot king M. L. Leddy is now royalty himself, and he runs
a real family business: He does the cutting, his wife and daughter do
the stitching, his son-in-law does bottoms, and his former daughter-in-law
creates the prettiest inlays anywhere. Specializes in: Flowery tops, old-fashioned
crimped vamps, zipper tops, sharp pointed toes. Prices start at: $625.
Turnaround time: Three to four months. Has made boots for: Country singers
Buck Owens, George Jones, and Johnny Bush; U.S. representative Charles
Bell Custom Boots
2118 N. Treadaway Boulevard
The gregarious Alan Bell understudied with Tex Robin in Coleman (see below)
before going solo. Twenty-five years later, his is one of the state's
busiest husband-and-wife operations (Pauline Bell does the top stitching).
Specializes in: Versatility (his leather ranges from tough and rugged
to soft and supple) and signature stitching outside and inside the vamp.
Prices start at: $625. Turnaround time: One year. Has made boots for:
Race car driver Kyle Petty; cowboys from the 6666, the Pitchfork, and
Western Leather Craft Boot
1950 Civic Circle
Four generations of the Ross family have been making fine working and
dress boots since 1914. Specializes in: Work boots, art boots, wing tips,
and flower inlays. Prices start at: $575. Turnaround time: Three months.
Has made boots for: Singing cowboy Gene Autry.
2222 College Avenue
Lee Miller apprenticed under the late, great Charlie Dunn and took over
the business when Dunn retired. Specializes in: Flashy designs, such as
wild flames decorating the tops and trademark Charlie Dunn pinched rose
overlays. Prices start at: $1,000. Turnaround time: Three years for new
customers (they're not taking any right now), thirteen months for old
ones. Has made boots for: Country singer Lyle Lovett, rock singer Sting,
actor Slim Pickens, golfer Arnold Palmer.
Tex Robin Custom Handmade Boots
115 W. Eighth
Robin's father, also called Tex, opened his doors in 1944 and passed his
talent and commitment to high quality on to his son, who has now run the
one-man shop for thirty years. Specializes in: Artistic tops with eclectic
stitching (e.g., prickly pear cactus spines), brilliant coloring, and
trademark butterflies and eagles. Prices start at: $695. Turnaround time:
One year. Has made boots for: Governor Rick Perry, gambler Benny Binion.
2080 County Road 304
Since learning the trade from the late Dan Trujillio, another Comanche
legend, Eddie Kimmel has built up one of the most productive small shops
in Texas. Specializes in: Old-style boots that are a little stouter and
have a heavier inner sole, which means they last longer. Prices start
at: $550. Turnaround time: Three months. Has made boots for: Actresses
Sandra Bullock and Priscilla Presley; movie producer Lynda Obst.
115 S. Anthony
Their boot designs are part flash and part kitsch, so it's no surprise
that the showroom in which Nevena Christi and Marty Snortum greet their
customersby appointment onlyresembles Pee-wee's Playhouse.
Specializes in: The wildest tops in the business, from Hot Rod Devil and
Custom Car Angel logos to fiery chiles and the Virgin of the Guadalupe.
Prices start at: $750 (take $40 off any order if you trade a childhood
cowboy photo). Turnaround time: Twelve weeks. Has made boots for: Actors
Billy Bob Thornton, Mel Gibson, and Bruce Willis; actress Sharon Stone;
director Steven Spielberg; talk-show host Oprah Winfrey.
421 S. Cotton
Co-owners Scott Emmerich and Jerry black (the third outlaw "we hung,"
says Emmerich) supply boots to high-end retailers, including Emmerich's
Falconhead in the tony Brentwood neighborhood of Los Angeles. Specializes
in: Elaborate designs, exotic leathers, handstitching as wide as 25 rows,
braided kangaroo-skin piping, and silver inlays built into the boot. Prices
start at: $595. Turnaround Time: Four to eight weeks. Has made boots for:
Actresses Brooke Shields, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Renee Zellweger; rock
singer Sheryl Crow; uberagent Mike Ovitz.
The Stallion Boot and Belt Company
100 N. Cotton
Longtime boot collector Pedro Mu–oz, Jr., made a killing off of the Urban
Cowboy craze. Twenty years later, he still designs boots for sale via
trunk shows and couture retailers such as Dolce & Gabbana and Christian
Dior. Specializes in: Replicas of classic boots emphasizing starbursts
and flame stitching, as well as buck stitching and lacing. Claims to be
the only bootmaker using fossilized walrus and woolly mammoth ivory. Prices
start at: $500. Turnaround time: Six to twelve weeks. Has made boots for:
Rock singers Madonna, Robert Plant, and Bob Dylan; actress Ashley Judd;
actor Tom Cruise.
Arditti Alligator Accoutrements and Handcrafted Footware
910 Texas Avenue
A twelve-year veteran of the leather biz at age 31, Thomas Yves Arditti
produces high-end designs for boots made of alligator and other exotic
leathers. Specializes in: High-quality leather inside and outside the
boot and signature sterling-silver logo built into the heel. PRICES START
T: $550. Turnaround time: One to two months. Has made boots for: Actor
Jack Nicholson, former Russian leader Mikhail Gorbachev.
8616 Quebec Drive 817-367-7976 Formerly a bull rider, Allen designed chaps
before shifting his focus to boots. Specializes in: Detailed tooling and
a trademark lightning bolt. Prices start at: $650. Turnaround time: Eight
to ten months. Has made boots for: The cutting-horse crowd.
Wheeler Boot Company
Dave Wheeler has been working at his father's shop since he was twelve;
forty years later he continues the family tradition by working alongside
his wife and his mother. Specializes in: Colorful, elaborately designed
boots-as-art Prices start at: $825. Turnaround time: Eleven months. Has
made boots for: Vice President Dick Cheney, actor Robert Duvall, defense
attorney Dick DeGuerin.
Maida's Blackjack Boot Company
3948 Westheimer Boulevard
First-generation Italian bootmaker Sal Maida, Sr., served Houstonians
for years; since 1977 that task has fallen to his son, Sal Junior, and
bootmaker Richard Salazar. Specializes in: Upscale boots suitable for
cowboy balls. Prices start at: $695. Turnaround time: Ten to twelve weeks.
Has made boots for: Rockers ZZ Top, actor Ben Johnson.
R.J.'S Boot Company
3321 Ella Boulevard
A bootmaker to the power elite, Rocky Carroll is a worthy successor to
his dad, who started the business in 1938. He is backed by independent
contractors, including 76-year-old Antonio Sanchez, maybe the state's
finest craftsman, who works semi-exclusively for him out of a garage in
Mercedes. Specializes in: Conservative, upscale boots with artistic tops,
such as corporate logos, and lots of gold and silver. Prices start at:
$295. Turnaround time: Two weeks. Has made boots for: Both President Bushes,
Governor Rick Perry, country singer Dolly Parton.
Jazz Boot Shop
803 E. Avenue G
Pablo Jass worked for twelve years alongside the late Ray Jones, also
of Lampasas. He still turns out tougher-than-hell real cowboy boots made
for working on the range. Specializes in: Jones's box toe, white piping,
and stiff tops, and electric topstitching done by his wife, Juanita. Prices
start at: $600. Turnaround time: Six months to one year. Has made boots
for: Author and boot aficionado Tyler Beard.
Cavazos Boot Factory
Vicente Cavazos, an unsung elder of the bootmaking biz, does the whole
boot himself, from fit to finish, excelling in artistic stitching, inlays,
and overlays. Specializes in: Imaginative top designs, including roses
and a Corpus Christi cityscape, and stylish ostrich wing tips. Prices
start at: $225. Turnaround time: Four to five weeks. Has made boots for:
Former president Bill Clinton, U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige,
actor Tommy Lee Jones.
Camargo's Handmade Boots
710 U.S. 83
Henry Camargo considers himself an artist and lets his imagination fly,
producing an assortment of unconventional designs on exotic skins with
free-form stitching. Specializes in: Tops with 55 Chevy convertibles,
'66 Corvettes, Harleys, Ford pickups, speedboats, Dallas Cowboys helmets,
and Lone Star beer logos. Prices start at: $225. Turnaround time: Three
to five weeks. Has made boots for: Country singer Willie Nelson, actor
Stephanie Ferguson Custom Boots
2112 Poe Prairie
The Ohio native-the only female bootmaker in Texas going it alone-understudied
at Jack Reed's place in Burnet, where she developed a flair for flamboyant
colors and overlays. Specializes in: Tops with three-dimensional hummingbirds,
coconuts, flamingos, parrots, and morning glories. Prices start at: $850.
Turnaround time: Six to eight months. Has made boots for: Country singer
David Allan Coe.
El Vaquero Boots
722 E. Norman
Ignaclo "Nacho" Martinez, another unsung elder, was part of the team
that built boots for President Dwight D. Eisenhower for the dedication
ceremony for Falcon Dam, in 1954. After spending most of his career at
Raymondville's now-defunct Rios Boots, he currently works out of his garage
with his son, Joe. Specializes in: Flaming-red rose inlays, intricate
braided-lace piping, and lizard scallops. Prices start at: $300. Turnaround
time: Six to eight weeks. Has made boots for: Armstrongs, Klebergs, Yturrias,
and other ranching elites.
Armando's Boot Company
169 N. Seventh
Abraham Rios once had Raymondville's biggest shop, serving area ranches
like the King Ranch. Today his nephew Armando Duarte Rios puts his 45
years of experience into each and every boot. Specializes in: Fancy inlays
and nimble stitching up to ten rows wide. Prices start at: $420. Turnaround
time: Eight to ten weeks. Has made boots for: Former governor Mark White;
former Speaker of the House Gib Lewis; actors Sean Penn and Peter Coyote;
country singer Willie Nelson.
Torres Brothers Boot Company
246 S. Seventh
In 1997 Raul and Frank Torres reopened the longtime business run by their
father, Leopoldo Torres, who still consults for his sons on a regular
basis. Specializes in: Butterfly stitching and white-alligator boots.
Prices start at: $200. Turnaround time: Six to seven weeks. Has made boots
for: King Ranch cowboys, Texas Rangers, border patrolmen.
J. L. Mercer and Son Custom Boots
224 S. Chadbourne
J. L. Mercer began working in his daddy's shop at age eleven. Seventy
years later, he sells boots out of a rickety storefront and at rodeos,
cutting-horse competitions, and the State Fair. Specializes in: Basic
work boots, roper boots, and crepe soles, Prices start at: $450. Turnaround
time: Three months. Has made boots for: Lyndon B. Johnson; former governor
Mark White; actors Barry Corbin and Tom Wopat; country singer Billy Ray
Rusty Franklin Handmade Boots
15 E. Avenue D
Franklin split off from his venerated grandfather, M. L. Leddy, sixteen
years ago and recruited master bootmaker Eugene Lopez from the late Charlie
Garrison's operation in Llano. Specializes in: Stiff tops, school logos,
and Texas icons such as the Capitol, the Alamo, mockingbirds, oil derricks,
yellow roses, and bluebonnets. Prices start at: $495. Turnaround time:
Five to six months. Has made boots for: Actor Tommy Lee Jones, Dallas
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.
M. L. Leddy Boots
2200 W. Beauregard
One of the oldest and largest custombootmaking operations in the state.
Specializes in: Old-fashioned high-heel range riders, nuevo-retro cockroach
stompers, tool tops, and lace-ups. Prices start at: $495. Turnaround time:
Three to four months. Has made boots for: Country singer Trisha Yearwood,
basketball star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, actor Paul Newman.
110 Division Avenue
What Lucchese Boots once was to San Antonio, Little's Boots-established
in 1915-is today. Little's sets the standard for fancy custom boots, which
are on display at the state's best showroom. Specializes in: Expensive,
unembellished exotic leathers and intricately detailed art boots, including
three-dimensional pinched roses and unique wildflower and leaf patterns.
Prices start at: $750. Turnaround time: Three and a half months. Has made
boots for: Country singer Reba McEntire, actor Tommy Lee Jones, author
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