SAN ANTONIO – In 1915, Lucien Little, a traveling shoe salesman, settled down and opened up a little shoe store which evolved into a boot making company. One-hundred years and four generations later, the family is still making custom boots the old-fashioned way.
"Today, we do boots for people all over the world," said 83-year-old Dave Little, the founder's grandson.
Little can still be found most days at Little's Boot Company, a modest storefront and workshop at 110 Division Avenue. Two of his children, Sharon and Duane Little, now run the business.
The showroom is filled with boots of exotic skins, elaborate stitching and even some non-traditional colors.
"Most of all these styles are generated by customers because that's what we do: custom work," Dave Little said.
He proudly shows off a boot his father made 60 years ago.
"It's made out of sea turtle, which is against the law today," he said.
When Lucien Little began making boots, his buyer was the working cowboy. The boots were made to be comfortable and to take a licking.
When Dave Little moved into the management saddle in 1975, he made a shrewd business move. He switched from a work boot to a dress boot.
"We went to a fancier boot because we figured that's what the customer wanted," he said.
Make no mistake; they are fancy. You can't mosey in an find a pair for less than $1,300. A pair of saltwater crocodile boots runs $10,000.
The workshop is anything but fancy.
A handful of artisans work their time-worn tools, stitching and cobbling each boot with precision.
"Most factories put nails here," said Duane Little, pointing to the bottom of the soles. "We peg them with wood because wood expands. So when it's wet, it lasts longer."
Forty years ago, Dave Little chose quality over quantity, targeting customers willing to pony up more money for a pair of boots styled and custom-crafted for their particular feet.
One room of the workshop is filled with plastic custom molds as large as size 15EEE. Dave Little points out one that's for a repeat customer with a bunion.
"We do a tremendous effort to make them happy," he said of his customers. "Hopefully most of them come back for a second pair."
Monday, the Texas House of Representatives recognized Little's Boot Company for its century in business.
Dave Little attributes their success to two things.
"If you enjoy the trade and enjoy customers, you stay with it," he said.
For 100 years, the four-generation business and its customers have been a pretty good fit.