This Santa Fe Store Is Where Hollywood Finds Its Vintage Cowboy Boots

Kowboyz cowboy boots
Kowboyz in Santa Fe, N.M.
Ezra Levy

When 30 pairs of cowboy boots were needed for a scene in the upcoming movie “Ideal Home,” the crew headed to Kowboyz, a second-hand Western store in Santa Fe, N.M., where the film was being shot.

The store, which is lined from floor to ceiling with roughly 2,000 pairs of new and vintage boots, has also supplied footwear for TV shows including Netflix’s “Longmire” and WGN’s “Manhattan.”

“Ideal Home” costume designer Judy Gellman said that shopping at Kowboyz was a learning experience. “I discovered a lot about cowboy boots — different toe and heel shapes, tooling and spurs,” she said. “It was fascinating.”

Alonzo Wilson, the costume designer for “Manhattan” (which took place in 1940s Los Alamos, N.M.), appreciated its authenticity. “The show was based on a true story, so the [clothing] had to look real,” said Wilson. “The goal was to have everything be authentic, and we needed a source for vintage. However, there are not a lot of boots around anymore that old.”

Kowboyz cowboy boots Kowboyz in Santa Fe, N.M. Ezra Levy
Kowboyz cowboy boots Kowboyz in Santa Fe, N.M. Ezra Levy

Kowboyz, located just outside the city’s center, has historic ties to the entertainment industry. The business was founded nearly 30 years ago by Brad Hammond, the manager for famed radio DJ Wolfman Jack. Hammond and his wife moved the business to Santa Fe in 2008 and sold it in 2013 to husband-and-wife team Cristina and John Iverson.

While the Iversons are newcomers to the Western market, they share a love for the lifestyle. John grew up on a ranch, and Cristina, a native of Romania, always had a passion for boots. “Europeans are fascinated with John Wayne and [Western] culture,” she said. “The first thing I did when I came to the U.S. 26 years ago was buy a pair of boots.”

The Iversons focus on previously worn product, from iconic labels such as Lucchese, Tony Lama, Rocketbuster, Corral, Paul Bond, T.O. Stanley and Falconhead. Prices range from $99 to $200.

On a recent visit, the oldest product in the store is a 1940s Peewee style, a short silhouette from the era that is popular with female customers. According to Cristina Iverson, it’s increasingly difficult to find styles from the 1940s that will resell. “Boots need to be more than just old,” she said. “They need to be in good condition.”

Kowboyz cowboy boots John and Cristina Iverson, owners of Kowboyz Ezra Levy

Kowboyz cowboy boots Kowboyz in Santa Fe, N.M. Ezra Levy

To locate product, the couple scout flea markets, estate sales and thrift stores in the area. And to extend their reach, they hire “pickers” — part-timers who sort through Western goods at sales in areas including Denver and El Paso, Texas.

Prices are determined by age, condition, bootmaker and material, including such skins as ostrich, horn-back lizard, eel, elephant and caiman alligator. According to Cristina Iverson, the store only stocks product made in the U.S. and Mexico. “No one wants boots made in China,” she said.

The store caters to locals as well as tourists from as far away as Australia. And while it is active on social media, Kowboyz does not do business on the internet. “You have to try the boots on,” said Iverson. “They’re all broken in, and who knows what size they are now?” Husband John added that their approach to retail is old-fashioned — in fact, the register is just an adding machine with a cash drawer. “We have a lot of fun in the store,” he said. “There’s no stress.”

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