The raised horseshoe heels, narrow toes and tall polished shafts – cowboy boots are unmistakable, and after keeping Taoseños in this classic Western wear for more than 50 years, Ranchero Boot & Leather is set to sell its final pair on March 18.
Longtime co-owner Esther Salazar, who took over the shop at 323 Paseo del Pueblo Sur in 1980 with her late husband, Benny Salazar, sat on a stool in a rear fitting room on Feb. 13, still surrounded by about 3,000 pairs of boots.
A rich leathery smell fills the boot shop. Boots line the shelves from wall to wall – from more traditional varieties and steel-toed work boots to ornate crocodile-skin ropers. Several customers milled through the aisles in the shop’s main room.
Salazar said business has been good since the sale began early this month.
So far, she estimates they’ve sold about 2,000 pair since the beginning of February, but she’s hoping to empty the shelves before it’s over.
The liquidation is a partnership between Salazar and Ashley Jackson, an Idaho native who specializes in helping cowboy boot store owners close up shop.
Jackson acknowledges that it can be a challenge for an owner to sell off its stock when it comes time to call it quits.
“When someone wants to retire from the cowboy boot industry, there’s not a lot of options to sell it to someone that they know,” Jackson said, “or give it to someone that they know – like their kids. This place doesn’t have that opportunity.”
Jackson said she comes in to manage the sale, help advertise and then buy up what’s left.
For Salazar, Jackson was a godsend.
Salazar has seen it all, from ordering from suppliers, keeping the books, fitting and repair. The shop had given her and her family their livelihood, but she and her husband had been reading the economic tea leaves for some time.
“I saw businesses closing around me, folding,” she said. “I saw myself not even making enough money to pay the rent, the taxes, the utilities. I thought I might keep it open, but then I still had to pay my suppliers. There’s a time for everything, and I decided it was time to say goodbye.”
The Questa Chevron Mine closure hit them hard. Salazar explained that many of their customers had been miners. Others were tourists, as well as locals, who had been wearing cowboy boots since they were young.
Salazar said they still had their regulars, but that the market was clearly shrinking. After her husband passed away from a battle with cancer in 2014, she knew it was time to close.
In the meantime, Salazar hopes to see everyone in the community stop by to see what’s on sale.
“I enjoyed meeting and talking to all the different people that came in here,” she said. “I love people. I think they’re interesting. I love to reach them and talk to them and learn about them.”
Although she knows there will be gap in the business community in Taos, she says she expects locals will have a lot to remember from the years the shop was open for business.
“I think people will always remember that we always carried quality boots,” she said. “My husband and I were in the business for so long and had been here for so long that we got to know the area and then also people will remember us.”
The sale will continue Monday through Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Sunday, from 12-6 p.m.