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Friday, May 20, 2016

Two Cowboys on a Journey: Alberta Boot Company Calgary - Alberta

You Better Like Them a Lot

Ben Gerwing is the third generation, and the most recent caretaker at the Alberta Boot Company. He grew up in the factory. As young entrepreneur he is equally at home with customers in the front of the shop, than he is at designing, or stitching a pair of soles on a custom pair.

As typically happens with iconic producer businesses, the business is now much more than the Gerwing family. Like Smithbilt Hats, the company became an Albertan institution thanks to the Western traditions of the city and surrounds. It is an icon for every Canadian Cowboy and for those that still appreciate old school hand crafted quality leather footwear. The RCMP shops at Alberta Boot Company for their boots. So does many other law enforcement agencies in North America.

You can only get it at their store in Southern Calgary. You have to make the trip. Alberta Boot Company is now the only traditional leather boot manufacturer left in Western Canada, and one of the few businesses in its category that still make quality footwear that lasts. In Ben's own words: "When you buy a pair of Alberta Boots, you better like them. They are going to be with you for a very long time."

There are good reasons why Cowboy boots look the way they do. They are workwear first, and has been for centuries. Ben has a real appreciation for the tradition in the category. However, it is some of his newer designs in leather shoes that caught our eyes. He is modestly hand crafting very stylish half boots and leather shoes for a newer market. You just have to go and see them for yourself to appreciate them.

Alberta Boot was an idea that came from Clement Gerwing, Ben's grandfather, in the mid 1970's. He was selling western boots from Mexico and Quebec out of his wholesale footwear store. The demand for well made western boots was high and he didn't like the quality and products coming in. This was when he decided to start a new venture at an age many were considering retirement. Over a course of two years, in 1978 Alberta Boots was ready to go.

35 years later, they still make all their boots the same way they did at the beginning, even using quite a few of the original machines to add to the allure and individuality of every pair of boots produced.

Alberta Boot Company has outfitted Royalty, movie stars, entertainers, celebrities, athletes, public figures, religious leaders, and most importantly - ordinary people from all over the world who are intrigued by the mystique of the Wild West! "There is no greater compliment that we could receive," Ben Gerwing says, "than when a customer comes into our store and lays down their hard earned money for a pair of Alberta Boots. The fact that well-known people are wearing our product is an exciting thing, but it is the support of our regular clientele and the efforts of our dedicated staff that have brought our company to where it is today."


Unfortunately, there are not a lot of reasons to visit Albert Boot Company, often. 

The problem is that they make their boots so well that unless you are a collector, you have to invent reasons to visit. This is exactly what I do to have an excuse for a trip to Calgary for boot shopping. Every family member or friend that visit us in Alberta is carted off within the first week of their arrival for their first pair of boots. Real Cowboy Boots.

Every sibling that reaches the ripe age of eighteen also gets their custom pair of Alberta Boots. Why eighteen? Because the boots are so well made, you better be sure they fit. You are going to fall in love with them and wear them a long, long time.

It is easy to spot the people that wear Alberta Boots during the Calgary Stampede. They are the people with the smiles on their faces, because the boots are also really comfortable. The imported variety, that is taken out of the cupboard only for the once a year celebration, has a tendency to destroy your feet, and your love for the iconic western cultural celebration.

A trusty boot is like all well made garments. It takes on the character of the person that wears it. Alberta Boots are no different. Once you made friends with a pair of bull hides, they are friends for life. 

One particular event stays with me from a prior visit to the store. An old cowboy came through the door with a pair of Alberta Boots in need of a lot of attention.  After he was kindly informed that his boots were beyond resuscitation and repair this time, he just shrugged and left them on the counter. "I'll pick them up next week when you're done." he said in passing. On closer inspection, his boots has already been re-made several times, and apparently he is refusing to let go. That made an impression on me about the loyalty to, and love affair people have with their Alberta Boots.

If you ask me why I wear Alberta boots. Because an Alberta Boot ultimately becomes my boot. Ben and his team understand that very well. 

Hendrik van Wyk
Alberta Boot Cowboy

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