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Insider Profiles

A Big City With a Small-Town Attitude

Noel EscobarEscobar's shop is in South Austin, and like many people in the 78704 ZIP code, he doesn't often see much reason to leave the neighborhood.


Noel Escobar learned how to repair leather from working in his father's shop in McAllen, Texas — part time as a teenager, full time after he graduated high school. But he was young and restless, and all his friends were moving to Austin. "I just wanted to get out of a small town," he says.

He'd been in and out of a few jobs in Austin when he answered an ad looking for someone to manage Texas Custom Boots. Escobar got the job, and six months later, the store. "The guy who owned it bought it as an investment and didn't put in 100 percent," Escobar recalls. "He saw that I was turning it around, so he sold it to me and washed his hands of it."

At the time, Escobar didn't actually know how to make boots — he was a repair guy. So he hired experienced bootmaker Albert Lozano and, in between handling sales and repairs, learned the art of making boots. "I gotta say, it wasn't an overnight thing. Albert and I worked together until about 2007, when health issues forced him to lay the tools down."

Now Escobar's boots are worn by the famous — including Clint Eastwood, Kevin Costner, and local hero Alejandro Escovedo — and the rich. "Every once in a while somebody with deep pockets will come in and order alligator and crocodile boots, all the way, top to bottom," Escobar says. "But we enjoy the elaborate, the color, the fancy when we can get it. One client from New York sent a bunch of tattoo art and wanted boots using them. Every color you could think of was in the boot. He just said, 'Get 'em as bright as you can.'"

Escobar's shop is in South Austin, and like many people in the 78704 ZIP code, he doesn't often see much reason to leave the neighborhood. He can walk to many of his favorite places — like Polvo's Mexican Restaurant, where he likes to have breakfast (and lunch when he can get away from the shop). "I'm there three times a week, at least," Escobar says. The Continental Club also is a stroll away. That's where he met Escovedo, who played there weekly for several years. Now that Escovedo has hit the big time and the road, Escobar follows western swing trio Hot Club of Cowtown and Charanga Cakewalk. "They're kind of Hispanic, cumbia-style."

For a getaway, Escobar might drive to the nearby town of Lockhart "for some good old-fashioned barbecue." In the summertime, he'll buzz to New Braunfels for tubing on the Guadalupe River. "If I can squeeze in two or three [outings] in a summer, that's great."

To be sure, Escobar has built a world-renowned business in one of the nation's most dynamic cities. But in some ways, he's also carved out the perfect small-town life.

Check out Noel's Austin.