Lee Benson, Deseret News
You can find a lot of homogeneity in life. Same styles. Same materials. Same price. Looks like everything came out of the same box.
And then there's Don Roundy.
Don is owner, proprietor and lone employee of "D. Roundy, Shoe and Boot Maker."
His is the place you run into if you take the road less traveled.
His workshop/store is located behind the house he shares with his wife, Cindy. His morning commute is about 30 feet.
Advertising consists of a decorated mailbox in front of the house on 2200 West, where Don has hung a colorful, oversized cowboy boot and strapped a small saddle on top of the mailbox.
That's because he also makes saddles.
Making saddles and boots from scratch isn't the most conventional occupation in the first place. But Roundy, 60, takes unconventional to the next level by doing everything by hand and by himself. No assembly line shortcuts for him; no mass-produced anything.
"The problem with the business of shoemaking is that it's an art; the problem with the art of shoemaking is that it's a business," says Roundy, summing up his life's work and its associated challenge in one succinct thesis statement.
With that, he turns up the classic country radio station he always has blaring in the background, and gets to work on another pair of custom boots.
It's a craft, he says, that's nearly lost in the modern mechanized, technologized world
He holds up the insides of a pair of famous name-brand, mass-produced boots as a visual aid. The insoles are made of paper, held together by cloth and plastic.
"Anything you can't see, they take a shortcut on," he says.
The boots he makes, by contrast, have leather throughout.
Roundy boots cost more — about $500 per pair — "but you'll still have 'em 30 years from now."
Don knows he's whistling into the wind, but he also knows he isn't in business to sell to the masses.
He gets his customers through a combination of old-fashioned word of mouth and new-fashioned Internet marketing (his website is roundyboots.com), and since demand regularly runs ahead of supply, he manages to stay busy and in business.
When he stops to take a breath, he marvels about life taking him places he didn't exactly plan on.
He was going to college in 1974, majoring in small business management, when, to help pay for school, he got a job in a shoe repair shop.
He never did finish college but was soon managing his own small business, a shoe repair place he opened called The Boot Mill.
He grew restless just repairing shoes and branched into making them — something he found infinitely more challenging and rewarding.
Having grown up on a ranch in the southern Utah town of Alton, Kane County ("it was so small it had a beginning and an end but no middle") he naturally gravitated toward cowboy boots.
Boots became his specialty — them and saddles.
He learned from all sorts of bootmakers and read every book he could find on the subject.
"I honed my craft," he says, and adds: "And now I'm stuck. I don't know how to do anything else."
But in his custom-made shop he radiates contentment — one man, a self-made artisan, doing something very few people do.
"I don't pay rent anymore and I don't pay anybody," he says. "I just hide back here behind the house and take care of who finds me."
Lee Benson's About Utah column runs Monday and Friday.
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