Travis Van Dyke is the “T” in Hamilton’s CTC Boot and Shoe Repair. He’s sandwiched on his business card, as in life, by his favorite “C’s” – his wife, Carrie, and his 4-year-old son Caleb.
They became a cobbling family in May 2012 when they bought shoe repair equipment from a man retiring from the business. Travis was his apprentice for a period of time, learning the trade, and then opened a storefront in the first block of State Street in Hamilton.
The commercial strip of businesses is bustling again, with a custom cabinet shop, antique store and dog grooming business keeping the parking lot filled with customers who sometimes multi-task errands between shops.
“It’s tough to be a small business owner, so it’s nice when we can support each other,” said Travis.
He admits he enjoys the work more than he could have imagined. In high school, he loved shop classes and even sewing in home economics and now he’s surrounded by industrial sewing machines, sanders and curved needle stitchers – most of which are vintage – built in the 1930s and entirely reliable.
Caleb, however, has no need for anything but his miniature hammer and disposable nails. He dons his safety glasses from the minute he enters his dad’s shop and saddles up to the counter to bang away for a few minutes each day when he and Carrie stop to visit.
Above all, it’s the customer service Travis loves the most. For years, he sold advertising for a greetings welcoming service he and Carrie ran together.
“But now people come to me for what they need,” he said. “I help them and make money doing it and it’s a win/win for all of us.”
Travis has always been a hard worker, juggling multiple jobs not only to make ends meet but to stay productive. He drove truck for a while and then decided to follow his dream and become a hunting guide in Montana. He moved to the Bitterroot in 1999 and married Carrie two years exactly from the day they met.
Carrie is a certified auctioneer and they both participated in her family’s local auctioneering business as well as sold produce at Hamilton’s Farmers Market, making many friends along the way.
When Travis and Carrie sold their welcoming service business in 2008, they decided to look for something that might be “somewhat recession-proof.”
“We wanted a business that would provide for our family in good times and bad and truly, this business fits the bill,” said Travis. In good times, people are investing in quality footwear and in hard times, they are making due with what they have which means repairs rather than buying new.
Travis is proud that his business is environmentally responsible and provides one of the oldest methods of recycling. He quoted the Shoe Service Institute of America that estimates 62 million pairs of shoes are kept out of landfills each year because of the shoe repair industry. However, he laments what appears to be a dwindling number of cobblers.
“You can’t believe all the repair equipment that is for sale online,” he said. “Selling a shoe repair business if difficult and the sad thing is, if someone retires without teaching another, then all that knowledge goes down the road to nowhere.”
While Travis is busy during certain seasons fixing boots for hunters, firefighters and loggers, he also has year-round customers needing purses and leather jackets stitched, belts notched and cowboy boots or high heels resoled.
Travis said since August, “We have been constantly slammed, which is good. It really is a blessing. I’ve been blessed more than I deserve.”
He said he really enjoys working on custom-made boots with quality materials. “They were just made to be resoled and last as long possible,” he said. He recommends people buy leather shoes or boots that are made in the U.S. or Mexico, “because the quality is just outstanding.”
Travis and Carrie are also working to expand and remodel a display area up front where they sell shoe polish, laces and accessories as well as a large selection of new and used boots.
“We buy, sell and trade used boots,” Travis said. “We even consign them and apply it toward a bill if needed. … For families, this is a great spot to find leather boots and shoes at about half the retail price.”
Recently, on a chilly morning, the door opened wide with a man in a flannel shirt wielding a pair of leather boots with the soles attached by screws.
“I’ve tried gluing them back together twice and then had to resort to this,” he confessed, “so if you can make them stay on, I’ll kiss ya,” he said to Carrie.
His order was soon followed by a young mother with fashionable riding boots she had bought online. “I didn’t realize how the buckle would bother me,” she said asking that Travis remove a strip of leather behind a buckle used for expanding the width of the top of the boot if needed.
Travis said he not only repairs but offers to stretch shoes and boots if they are too narrow in places or if a design flaw would keep them from being worn.
“I’ve added zippers in the back of riding boots …. And taken off the pointed toe of embellished boots that originally cost hundreds of dollars,” he said. “But it was worth it for the customer because if the boots weren’t (altered), they wouldn’t wear them at all.”
And so, if the old saying is right – that there is nothing better than a pair of comfortable boots – the VanDykes plan to help their neighbors keep those boots in circulation for a very long time.
CTC Boot & Shoe Repair can be found in the State Street Plaza at 107 State St. in Hamilton. Call 406-381-4975 for more information.