There are two entrances to the Milwaukee Boot Co., and if you walk through the 3rd Street door, the first thing you’ll note is the earthy, rich and slightly sweet smell of leather. And secondly, the sight of a pair of black cowboy boots.
The boots belonged to store manager Ryan Rintoul’s grandfather, who purchased the western-style footwear many decades ago while traveling in Texas. Rintoul’s grandmother gave him the boots when his grandpa passed away.
"These were his ‘dancin’ shoes,’" says Rintoul.
The well-loved boots serve as the perfect anecdote for the Milwaukee Boot Co., which officially opened last week at 234 W. Florida St. in Walker’s Point. They tell a story, bring heart into commerce and represent history.
"Milwaukee Boot Co. offers people a local shopping experience that showcases history and craftsmanship," says Rintoul. "But it also delivers a product that is relevant, beautiful and attainable."
CEO Mark Kohlenberg, who worked for major shoe merchants for most of his career, started his own men’s shoe, boot and leather accessories business a couple years ago called Well Dressed Man (WDM). After the brand garnered world attention for its quality, smart-looking leather products, Kohlenberg decided it was time to share his passion with his home city – literally face-to-face with Milwaukeeans. Thus, Kohlenberg and his small team of five Milwaukee-bred employees built Milwaukee Boot Co., a brick-and-mortar shop in the same historic building where they launched and run the online business.
"Mark calls it a ‘proof of concept’ store. It materializes what we’ve been doing online," says Rintoul.
Currently, Milwaukee Boot Co. offers a small selection of men’s leather boots along with casual, work and formal shoes under the company's Moral Code brand. By the summer of 2020, the company will roll out its full line of boots, which will be the core of their product line. Some of the new designs were directly inspired by Milwaukee industry in the late 1800s – a theme that runs throughout the store.
The shop also sells hand-crafted leather goods, apparel – screen-printed by Milwaukee's Orchard Street Press – and locally-made items like beard oils and essential roll-on colognes / perfumes from Viking and the Elk, and custom candles from Jaxson St. Mercantile.
While shopping, customers are encouraged to explore, too. You are welcome to grab a seltzer or local beer from the cooler, take-in the 1940s-era jazz music and peruse the thoughtfully displayed artifacts that include antique tools once owned by a cobbler in northern Wisconsin, vintage books, custom signs, an artistically-arranged collection of wooden shoe inserts, nods to other local businesses like glassware from neighbor Lost Valley Cider Co., and found objects from all over the state.
"We are a retail space for people to relax and stay awhile. Our styles are for everyone: the barista, the bartender, the butcher, the banker, the weekender," says Rintoul.
Every piece of furniture in the shop – with the exception of exactly two chairs – has a local origin and Milwaukee story. Nick Hardrath of The Urban Craftsman constructed all of the tables, benches, shelves and display pieces from Midwestern barn wood and fallen trees rescued after a storm in Oconto County near the home of Rintoul’s family members. Local sculptor, welder and graduate of Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design (MIAD), Brandon Minga, fashioned all of the hardware.
"We have grown – and will continue to grow – because of the partnerships we have in Milwaukee," says Rintoul. "There are so many talented people here."
Anyone who spends time in the Milwaukee Boot Co. will eventually be drawn to a large map of Milwaukee during the late 1800s. The map depicts an era when Brew City was a leading international supplier of leather made by tanneries like Pfister & Vogel and Gallun Tannery. Although the tanneries are gone now, the desire to make and sell quality leather products lives on.
"We couldn't be happier to be a part of Milwaukee's timeline," says Rintoul. "It’s been great being out in the world, but being local is what we care about most."
The Milwaukee Boot Company is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays; Sundays from noon to 4 p.m. and by appointment on Mondays. The company will also have occasional evening events, including a "secret" speaker series starting in January 2020.
Molly Snyder grew up on Milwaukee's East Side and today, she lives in the Walker's Point neighborhood with her partner and two sons.
As a full time senior writer, editorial manager and self-described experience junkie, Molly has written thousands of articles about Milwaukee (and a few about New Orleans, Detroit, Indianapolis, Boston and various vacation spots in Wisconsin) that range in subject from where to get the best cup of coffee to an in-depth profile on the survivors of the iconic Norman apartment building that burned down in the '90s.
She also once got a colonic just to report on it, but that's enough on that.
Always told she had a "radio voice," Molly found herself as a regular contributor on FM102, 97WMYX and 1130WISN with her childhood radio favorite, Gene Mueller.
Molly's poetry, essays and articles appeared in many publications including USA Today, The Writer, The Sun Magazine and more. She has a collection of poetry, "Topless," and is slowly writing a memoir.
In 2009, Molly won a Milwaukee Press Club Award. She served as the Narrator / writer-in-residence at the Pfister Hotel from 2013-2014. She is also a story slam-winning storyteller who has performed with The Moth, Ex Fabula and Risk!
When she's not writing, interviewing or mom-ing, Molly teaches tarot card classes, gardens, sits in bars drinking Miller products and dreams of being in a punk band again.