Ace High Custom Boots and Repair: Not your typical bootmaker
July 1, 2013
The shop is located west of Interstate 90 just south of Sturgis, South Dakota. Machines hum as one enters, and accompanies the smells of leather and glue. All is what one would anticipate when entering a boot repair business, but the person operating the machine isn't. Tall, willowy, pretty and young, the woman who operates Ace High Custom Boots and Repairs isn't exactly what folks might imagine a boot repair shop owner would look like.
Amanda Richardson opened her business in January of 2012 when she bought the equipment and supplies from Jim Birdsall, Rapid City, SD. After moving the equipment and getting it all set up, Richardson worked with Birdsall for about two months, being trained on the equipment, how to build boots, and how to repair others. Through word of mouth, rodeos and Facebook, her business has grown rapidly and she's extremely busy.
Repairing boots is her bread and butter, though she really enjoys building custom boots. "I'd like to get back to building boots, but I'm so busy with repairs I don't have the time," says Richardson. "I really want to though, so hopefully I'll get to where I can again."
Repairing all the different brands of boots has been very enlightening for Richardson, and the quality of some rather expensive boots is poor from her standpoint. Once she realized that she wasn't going to have time to build custom boots, she started searching for a brand of boot that she could carry for customers. With the quality issues of so many brands, she had about given up when she came upon a boot that was so well made that she wanted to be a dealer.
Honcho Boots are made in El Paso, TX and have the quality and craftsmanship that she can be proud to represent. With the closest dealer in Mandan, ND, Amanda can offer the Honcho boots on a custom order basis, with all the measurements and features available. She stocks a few basic sizes and styles, and the workmanship of the boots is superb, with quality leather and stitching. The boots in stock are usually horsehide or mule hide as she is so impressed with how that leather can be maintained.
Tearing down a pair of boots for repair is a real eye-opener. Some brands of boots don't have matching shanks, some shanks are plastic, and some boots have canvas instead of leather for the lining. Many are pegged with plastic pegs or nails, which break or deteriorate quickly. The deplorable workmanship can be improved upon greatly by Richardson's meticulous attention to detail, making the boots better by being repaired.
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"I'd like to have some help in the shop, but I'm very picky about how I want things done," says Richardson. Every boot is repaired on a last, therefore maintaining the original size of the boot for the customer. "I make sure I match the stitches to the holes when I resole, too. It weakens the welt if you don't."
"I prefer to put a full half sole on when I resole. I like how it looks and I think it's just a better sole," says Richardson. "Jack Hoffstetter from Newell (South Dakota) taught me how to put one on." The full half sole extends all the way from the toe to the heel of the boot. Replacement soles can be Neolite, grippy or slick, or leather. It's not a quick process, but worth the time and myriad steps to accomplish. She can also patch boots that have a tear or hole worn in them.
She rebuilds a lot of heels on boots and can put a spur ledge on a boot that doesn't have one. Richardson also is very careful to balance the heels on the boots so that they are even and land flat. When a boot is worn for hours at a time, the smallest difference can put undue strain on knees, hips and back for the wearer. "I've started working with a chiropractor in Sturgis to do "corrective shoeing" on customers footwear. Just like on a horse, the right 'shoeing' is very important," says Amanda.
The hardest boots to repair are the ones she built herself or other very good quality handmade boots. "They're built so well that they don't come apart easily," she says.
Her broad customer base includes ranchers, horse trainers, barrel racers, business people, and rodeo hands. "I seem to repair a lot of boots for saddle bronc riders," she says, smiling, "They seem to be awfully hard on their boots." Her customers mostly come from South Dakota, Nebraska, Montana, Wyoming, and California, with boots either being dropped off at the shop, her drop-off points or shipped to her.
Richardson uses the social media venue of Facebook to stay in touch with her customers and has a "Tip of the Week" to share with her customers and Facebook friends. She will show a problem with a boot or how to tell a quality boot from a poor one, plus has care tips.
"Most people just don't spend much time taking care of their boots. A lot of the repairs are due to poor care," says Richardson. "Boots need to be kept clean. If they get muddy, clean them up and put some leather conditioner on them. The welts especially need to be cleaned and conditioned or it eats the stitching."
"Boots also need to rest," says Amanda. "Give them a day off to dry out and for the leather to recover."
"When the sole gets bad, get them repaired. The dirt and moisture are hard on the inside of the boot," she explains.
When a pair of boots are done being repaired, Richardson carefully treats the leather with conditioner and shines them up. Boots ready to pick up undoubtedly look better than they've looked since they came out of the box. It's a point of pride for Amanda to have them look that way for the customer.
The Ace High answering machine says that she is open Monday through Sunday, so there isn't much time to play for Richardson. Her "day off" is spent working at Belle Fourche Livestock Exchange, Belle Fourche, SD, where she works any job they need her on every Thursday. She enjoys the variety and the social interaction with the crew and the customers.
She also enjoys training horses, especially for barrels, and has had success in the arena, but her business hasn't allowed much time to ride. Amanda, 27, shares a love for the horses with her mom, Cindy Richardson. She also has a brother Sam who is an electrician.
"This year has been amazing," says Richardson, "But it's sure been a lot of hard work. I love being self-employed though," she says, "There are disadvantages, but the advantages make up for it."
So, if your boots are needing some attention and you want them done well, Ace High Custom Boots would be a great destination for them. Drop off points, besides the shop, are Star of the West, Rapid City, SD; Broken Spur Tack, Belle Fourche, SD; and Rockingtree Floral, Sturgis, SD.
If you want to order a pair of custom boots so the repairs don't come as often, Ace High is also the place to call, with the opportunity to order a pair of Honcho Boots just the way you want them. Someday, when things slow down a little, perhaps you can even order a pair with the Ace High stamp in the tops.
Quality craftsmanship is what you'll find at Ace High Custom Boots and Repairs, with one lone woman working hard to do the best job possible every time.
If you wish to contact Amanda at Ace High Custom Boots and Repairs call 605-490-7661.