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Back at the Ranch celebrates 25 years as Santa Fe’s go-to shop for handmade cowboy boots

Article from Santa Fe New Mexican. As a child growing up in surf-side Florida, Wendy Lane Henry had one ambition: to live out West.  It took her 40 years to attain that dream, and when she did, she opened a cowboy boot store.  
She didn’t grow up on cowboy movies or have any particular feel for the cowboy way of life. Her dad was a plumber and her mom was a housewife. But by age 16, Henry was working in the retail business and fell in love with fashion and style. And though she went to college to be a teacher, she never left that world of style and clothing.  
This summer she celebrates her 25th anniversary as owner of Back at the Ranch, a cowboy boot shop on Marcy Street. It offers about 700 different types of cowboy boots for men and women.  
You want shark-skin boots? She’ll get them for you. Alligator-skin boots? No sweat. And if you want some sort of personal imagery on the boot — say a sweetheart’s name or the American flag or a Tyrannosaurus rex, she can get it done.  
“I probably have more boots than anybody in Texas,” Henry said during a recent interview at her shop.  
Everybody likes cowboy boots, she said, for a very simple reason: “You put on a pair of cowboy boots, you have attitude. It’s an American discovery, an American fashion statement. But it’s also very comfortable.”  
Her shop offers a few other accessories, such as handbags, jewelry and mules for women (mules in this case are slip-on backless shoes and not the offspring of a donkey and a horse). Her clientele is 85 percent women, she said.  
The walls of Back at the Ranch are adorned with images of pop-culture cowboys and cowgirls. They include shots of Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, John Wayne posing for a 1950s boot ad and posters for old Westerns with Rex Allen and “Wild” Bill Elliott.  
Those items date to the day 25 years ago when Henry opened Back at the Ranch on Don Gaspar Avenue, where Red River Mercantile is located now.  
At that time — 1990, a year after she moved to New Mexico — Back at the Ranch was a cowboy kitsch store, though Henry sold used cowboy wear and boots. Now she manufactures her own brand, made in a factory in El Paso, with an average price of $1,000 and a delivery time of about two weeks.  
Bob Vladem figures he has bought 20 pairs of boots from Back at the Ranch. He’s the guy who asked for the Tyrannosaurus rex boots “with a full scene that looks like something out of Jurassic Park,” he said. “I collect fossils.”  
Vladem — who said his closet is bigger than his wife’s and that he outdistances her when it comes to shoe and boot ownership — said some stranger will occasionally ask him to pull up his pants legs to take a gander at his various Back at the Ranch boots. “I moved from Chicago, and wearing cowboy boots is just another way to embrace Santa Fe and the Southwest where I live now,” he said.  
Movie actors, opera singers, a Bollywood star and country music performers have shopped at Back at the Ranch. Henry doesn’t always recognize them. Led Zeppelin members Robert Plant and Jimmy Page once came in to try on boots for three hours, but Henry had no idea who they were until a co-worker told her much later.  
In her store, Henry looks over a table full of various animal skins, including python, hippo and ring-tailed lizard. She describes herself as “over the top,” because of her exotic collection of boot skins.  
Henry said she has never developed a business plan. “I shoot from the hip and take a lot of risks.”  
She relocated her business to its current location in 2000 after her old lease ran out. In 2004, she introduced a line of zippered boots. In 2007, she opened the El Paso factory to produce handmade, custom-designed boots. In 2008, she built up her online presence. The Internet has changed marketing and sales, she said. “Almost everybody who comes in here says they found us on the Internet.”  
One of those customers is Nina Otto of Boca Raton, Fla. Otto has bought at least 10 pairs of boots from Back at the Ranch. She said there’s a very short season for cowboy boots in Florida: “It’s hot, so after May you cannot wear them here. You can’t get into them until November.”  
Otto has 10 dogs, one of which is cloned, and they “love my cowboy boots. I’m sorry I can’t buy 10 pairs of boots for my dogs, but that’s an awfully lot of boots.” Though she orders only online and by phone, Otto likes Henry and her staff. “They are exceptionally nice people and their boots are really lovely. They don’t sell too many boots in Florida, you know.”  
Henry gets that. But, she said, regardless of where people live, they are drawn to cowboy boots. “I love the cowboy boot,” Henry said. “I never get tired of looking at somebody wearing a pair.”  
For her 25th anniversary this month, she may put together some sort of celebration over Indian Market weekend, she said.  
Her advice to anyone buying cowboy boots anywhere is simple. “Do not buy a boot that is too small,” she said. “You should be walking out of the store with a big, comfortable fit.”  
Contact Robert Nott at 986-3021 or rnott@sfnewmexican.com. #BackAtTheRanchBoots #CustomCowboyBoots #HandmadeCowboyBoots


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