For many, boots are at the center of Montana life. Sometimes they’re made of ostrich, or God knows what exotic material, with ornate patterns liable to dazzle all of the cowboys on the dance floor. Sometimes they are something warm and water repellant to be tugged on before heading out to feed the animals in the pre-dawn gloom. Sometimes they’re steel-toed and rubber-soled to protect the wearer. Sometimes they’re something we lace up tightly before filling our backpack with water and goodies and running into the mountains.
But if you’re a Montanan, we’ve got a crisp ten dollar bill that says you have a pair of boots. Or a whole closet full of them.
Thank goodness, then, for Jeff and Garrett Carter, who between them have about a half of a century of experience working with boots. Both of them, it might be noted, started working with boots at 16-years-old—for Jeff, owner of Carter’s boots, that’s about 42 years, while for his son Garrett, that’s about seven years. Both were born and raised in Montana.
Jeff’s store started as Carter’s Cobbler Shoppe, opening its doors in downtown Bozeman in 1994. It quickly became apparent that boots would be their bread and butter. Perhaps a name change was in order... something that would capture what they were finding out. They became Carter’s Boots and Repair. “We definitely sell a lot more cowboy boots than work boots,” Jeff says. “If I had to guess, it’s 70/30 split on those. But we also sell a lot of hiking boots.”
Now in its third decade, the little shop in downtown Bozeman is internationally recognized for its exceptional craftsmanship. They’ve sold high-quality boots to satisfied customers in Japan, Switzerland, Australia, Russia, Germany and France. However, most of their repairs are from within the United States, many from right here in Montana.
"We take pride in the work we do because we enjoy the work and the people that we get to meet and work with on a day-to-day basis. We try and take care of everyone who walks through the door.”
Their boots are really something special, too. Hand-made from top to bottom out of leather and steel, with no artificial fillers, they’ll hold their shape after 1000 miles of walking or riding. These aren’t your big box store off-the-shelf boots, these are handcrafted works of wearable western art. That’s how a small storefront in a small mountain town grew into an internationally recognized boot shop that was able to keep food on the table and put their kids through college. Who could ask for anything more—that’s the American dream, after all.
Through it all, it has remained a family business. The family’s newest member is Tawnie, an adorable pooch who serves as both a greeter of customers and a maintainer of morale. All she asks by way of payment are frequent walks, belly rubs, and treats. She is firmly insistent on the last point.
“She’s been a wonderful addition to the shop,” Garrett says. “She takes us out for walks to get a break from work.”
When Garrett went to college, the Carters looked at the price they were paying for his dorm and gawped. “That’s a mortgage payment,” Jeff said.
After discussing their options, they decided that investing in a condo would be the wisest move. That way they’d have a place for Garrett to stay while in college, and then for his sister as well when she got older, while also gaining a smart real estate investment in the bargain.
Well, great, but even world-class cobblers sometimes need a little help in real estate matters. Luckily, they had the perfect con - nection - in fact, she used to work for him!
Jackie Wickens of Yellowstone Brokers worked in Carter’s Boots in college before meeting Trecie Wheat-Hughes, embark - ing on a career in real estate, and becoming one of the Mountain Mamas on the HGTV program of the same name.
“Jackie and Trecie understand what we do and how we operate as a family and as a business. They helped us find the perfect spot,” Jeff says. “Basically, we pay the mortgage for the place, and it’s still the cheapest rent in town.” Asked if they’d recommend Yellowstone Brokers to other fam - ilies in the same position, Jeff is unequivocal: “Absolutely. Work - ing with Jackie and Trecie was such as pleasure, and I’ll definitely be getting my next home or shop through them.”
Until then, the Carter’s will go on making and repairing boots— although even Jeff and Garrett have to take a day of, and when they do, they can be found riding dirt bikes, snowmobiling, or just relaxing with family in the great outdoors. Like so many of us, they seek peace and solace in the beauty of Montana. And, in another exciting development, they’re expanding into a larger location at 1662 Bobcat Drive on Huffine Lane soon.
“We will have twice the space for both repair and retail! We will start building it out this summer, and I’m thinking move in right at the end of the year. Maybe a little earlier, and then we’d have both places for a while.”
Above all, Jeff seems thankful. He is thankful that he’s been able to make it doing what he loves, house and support his family, and put boots on the feet of folks worldwide—but especially in Montana.
“I think the big thing that makes Montana such a great place to live and work is the people,” Garrett says, sage beyond his years. “Without the people, Montana is just beautiful scenery.”
Or, to mix metaphors, Montana without the people, well, that’s a little like a boot without a foot to wear it.