BY VENI FIELDS
CREEDS — A little tin, some weathered wood, a lot of leather, love — this is how to build a boot store.
But like the deceptively modest building in Creeds Marketplace, Pungo Ridge, with a classic Texas star between the words, is more than cowboy footwear.
Framed in a barn motif, its double glass doors first opened in March two years ago into a generous hand-crafted showroom, a five-decade legacy that crisscrosses the nation, and an online presence only recently feeling a little pinch from Amazon.
“It started with my father,” said Kelley Moore, co-owner with her husband, Tom Moore. “When my dad started not wanting to be on the road so much, I gave him a little online help in 2008.”
Fifty years ago, her father, Robert Stephens, sold western wear. His territory ranged from his home turf in Auburn, Calif., to Nevada and Oregon. Later, he shared his skills through Western Boot Service, the “Cowboy Cobbler,” which repaired and rebuilt high-end boots for customers all over the country. With a handful of fellow salesman, Stephens would eventually be involved in the creation of Denver Merchandise Mart, one of the largest wholesale tradeshows in the industry since the mid-1960s.
Robert Stephens did the traveling. His wife, Joan Stephens, kept the books. The enterprise remained that way into the couple’s senior years. Robert officially retired in 2009, and Kelley took over Internet sales full time.
“He was the salesman’s salesman,” Kelley Moore said.
“He still is,” the Moores said together.
But when they were dating in high school, Tom said, Kelley’s dad was a “big, grumpy cowboy. When I used to walk over or ride my bike over to her house, I’d pray his motor home wasn’t in the driveway.”
They laugh about that now, recounting how Tom joined the Marine Corps when the Stephens family moved out of bike-riding distance in 1976. He was 17, Kelley 16. They stayed in touch, though, and when he returned for a visit in 1982, “after 30 seconds, we knew,” Tom said. They married the next year.
The Moores did their own traveling for the next 20 years, until Tom retired from the Marine Corps in 1996 and joined a defense contractor, Mantech International, and transferred to Virginia Beach in 2006 and settled in Munden Point. He still works there full time, and Kelley still does a little web design for her business, Pungo Ridge Designs.
By the time the idea for a retail space emerged from Western Boot Sales online, the Moores were established in the community that has contributed so much of what’s inside the store today.
Tom Moore swept his arm above racks of clothing and outerwear, home items, children’s toys and even a bed, pointing out local items he used to build out the showroom: Corrugated metal from [Jimmy] Etheridge’s Auto Services pokes out of walls above shelves lined with boots and covers the hat bar, which is faced in weathered wood from Frank Williams’s potato shed. Wood beams from Chuckatuck. A cart, a wagon, saddles, and whiskey barrels from local, Walter Humphreys. And the building itself, converted by its owner, Marvin Rollins, from three warehouses into the storefront and two warehouses to hold stock for the showroom and online business.
“It’s all about community,” Tom said. His voice caught a little when he moved to a framed photo from a local 4-H event. Pungo Ridge donated belt buckles as awards, and Tom wanted to present them himself, he said. “For weeks after that, it was like ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ in here. Kids came in with bread their mothers baked. People came in to thank us. It was amazing.”
Giving back is important to them, as well; they contribute often to charities and offer a standard discount to veterans and first responders.
Fitting, cleaning and restoring western hats, fitting boots, outfitting rodeo participants and finding the perfect item, from stick ponies to cell phone covers and boot jacks, is in their blood, and their joy, Tom said. “We get all excited when someone gets excited, and they’re hopping and skipping around in something new,” he said.
It’s part of the fun, the Moores agree, that is making Pungo Ridge a fixture locally, as customers become friends as well as regulars. Behind the doors on Princess Anne Road, “it’s a little bit Mayberry,” Tom said.
And the fit feels perfect.
© 2016 Pungo Publishing Co., LLC