Armando Duarte Rios is among the Lone Star State’s top bootmakers
His custom- made boots rank among some of the best in Texas, but there are reasons for that.
Each pair of boots he laboriously makes are in accordance to a client’s specification.
Some are made using exotic animal hides from top to bottom. Others come in colors not commonly seen by those who wear boots as the preferred choice of shoes.
Some boots are more pointed than others. Some boots bear the initials of the soon-to-be proud owner. Some boots are for hunting birds in snake infested areas.
Duarte comes from a family of boot making folks.
In fact, he learned this dying trade from one of his uncles, the late Abraham Rios.
“I started working for my uncle more than 50 years ago,” Duarte Rios said. “ After that, I got out and started running my own business.”
“I have been in this same place ever since,” he said about Armando’s Boot Co., on North Seventh Street in Raymondville. “ I will be doing this until he tells to stop”
Duarte Rios is one of two boot makers left in Willacy County today. As many as five others were in the same line of work once but got out for their own reasons.
Some took retirement. Others could not find people or relatives to replace them.
Others succumbed to commercial boot makers like Tony Lamas, Justin Boots, Lucchese and others that make them in larger scale and their prices are considerably lower in general than Armando’s boots.
The business is owned by Ignacio “Nacho” Martinez, who began his work with another bootmaker, but now works out of his garage.
In Mercedes, known once as the boot capital of the United States and the second Rio Grande Valley city with another famous custom-made bootmaker, there is Camargo’s Boots.
“I am the only one left in Mercedes ,” Heny Camargo said. “There used to be five of us at one time here.”
He said he has been making custom made boots for 35 years and will probably call it quits one of these days.
Camargo said his cheapest boots start at $275.
In 2002, the starting price for a pair of Armando’s custom boots was $425; today it’s $525 for the cheaper pair.
Others can go up in the thousands.
Just recently, Duarte Rios shipped out an order of three pairs of boots plus a belt to a Houston client. Its price tag: $5,000.
The order included a pair of alligator hide boots that cost $2,800, including sale taxes.
“ I like making custom made boots because this is a special type of job,” he said. “ You don’t need a lot of people to work in this business.”
His company is made up of himself and two employees. They are Sotoniel Valdovinos and Rodolfo Sotelo.
The two said they have working in the boot business for about 30 years and got started working for bootmakers that shut their operations.
Armando’s, El Vaquero and Camargo Boots were listed in the state’s top 25 custom-made bootmakers in a 2002 edition of Texas Monthly magazine, but some of them closed as well.
Duarte Rios said some of his boots have gone to South American Australian, French and Spanish clients to name a few.
He said the hides he uses for making boots come from suppliers all over the world
Asked what makes a good pair of custom made boots, he said: “It takes several days to come out with a finished product and you have just got to do the best you can.
“These boots are made for clients who want them exactly like they ordered them.” (Photos on Page 9.)