A Wimberley boot shop owner has earned fame and fortune with her uncanny ability to find the perfect pair for each and every customer.
Ulli Johnston, affectionately known as the “Boot Whisperer,” has sold vintage Western boots since 1995 at her shop in Wimberley. Johnston’s famed ability to find the perfect style and fit of boots has attracted curious footwear-seekers from across the nation for decades.
Johnston said she opened The Wild West Store at its current location in 1993 with 40 or 50 pairs of boots. She has since increased her inventory but does not know exactly how many pairs of boots are in the store currently.
“I know the ‘500 boots’ sign outside is a generous underestimate,” she said. “I would say probably along the lines of seven to eight hundred, and I know where each boot is.”
The store contains countless styles in varieties of animal skin including hippopotamus leather, stingray, anteater, eel, menudo, horned lizard, iguana, alligator, elephant and more traditional materials.
All of the boots are vintage, Johnston said. Most are decades old. Some are almost a century old.
Johnston, who was born “just north” of Frankfurt, Germany, said she has always had a special love for leather shoes. As a child, Johnston was fascinated by the cobbler store in her hometown and spent time in the shoemaker’s shop.
“Up the street from my parent’s home was a little, tiny cobbler (store), and it was really dark, and it smelled of leather,” Johnston said. “That was my favorite place to go visit and just watch him repair the shoes and just smell the leather.”
Johnston came to be known as the “Boot Whisperer” years ago. She surprised a customer by selecting the perfect pair of boots. Johnston can gauge a customer’s boot size at a glance and find perfect-fitting footwear after only a few moments of searching.
“I’ve been doing the same thing from the get-go,” Johnston said. “I just didn’t know I could call myself ‘Boot Whisperer.’”
Johnston said she hears a specific sound when a foot enters a perfect fit of boots.
“When the boot is too big, there is an echo,” she said. “When it fits perfect, it is just like ‘pfft.’”
“Happy toes” are the key to well-fitted boots, Johnston said.
Johnston said she loves the look of amazement in peoples’ eyes when they realize how comfortable well-fitted boots are.
Pleasing people, not making a profit, is Johnston’s priority.
Once a customer sat on her couch for almost an hour, unable to make up her mind on which pair of boots to buy, Johnston said. Johnston refused to sell the customer any boots until the woman went home to “sleep on it.” The customer returned later and purchased a completely different pair.
“There are sometimes times when the customer tells me price range and the colors or the styles, and I walk through the store, and I tell them, ‘I’m not feeling it,’” Johnston said. “‘You have to come back. Your boot is in transit.’”
Johnston’s fame as the “Boot Whisperer” has attracted celebrities to her door, she said. Johnston is responsible for converting Jimmy Buffett from flip-flops to boots.
“His whole band is repeat customers,” Johnston said.
Norma and Chris Baisden traveled from Houston to The Wild West Store to find the perfect pair of boots, they said. The couple heard about Johnston from a friend who passed through Wimberley years ago. Norma and Chris decided they had to visit the shop.
Chris said Norma was looking for something “extravagant.”
Norma said she originally meant to spend $350 at the most, but a particular pair convinced her to extend her price range.
“You got extra cash, honey?” Norma asked.
“I could get some,” Chris said.
The couple left happily with a new set of vintage boots, spending more than $400 on the pair, Norma said. The boots were Norma’s first pair.
“I was born (in) Texas and don’t have any boots,” Norma said. “I had to correct that.”