June 1 marked 30 years that Richard Wood has owned Woody’s of Wellington, his iconic cobbler shop in the original Wellington Mall.
“I came here in May of 1987,” Wood recalled. “It was an existing shoe repair shop that was open four years before that, when the mall was originally built. He wanted out; I wanted in. I worked a month, and June 1, I bought the store.”
When Wood arrived, the shop was strictly shoe repair. Laces, polishes and other small essentials were sold there as well.
“I said this will not work, because 40 percent of the front of the store was empty,” he said. “So, I started putting in stock.”
Wood’s background began as a sandal maker in Fort Lauderdale. He was previously by the ocean, and now, he’s by the horses. Consequently, his expertise shifted from sandals to riding boots.
By 1974, Wood was fixing black boots, but never to the same volume as he has in Wellington, the winter equestrian capital of the world.
“I pride myself on what I do,” he said. “I’m 70 years old, and I’m still working. I still like what I do. I like my customers.”
Wood is known for his sense of humor, and also telling it like it is, such as his blunt assessment of the modern shoe industry.
Rubber soles, injection molded, are not quality shoes, he stresses. Though it might bring some sticker shock, the going rate for a good pair of shoes is $240 — but they will last decades.
“I’m 70; my daughter’s 35. I bought a pair of [high-quality] shoes before she was born, and I’ve still got them. They still make them today, only today, they’re $700 a pair, instead of the $150 I paid then,” Wood explained. “Quality is quality. You can’t duplicate it.”
Looking for a high-quality belt? Woody’s is a great place to find one.
Wood met a man a number of years ago who produces leather belts for some of the most high-end brands in the world: Tiffany, Hermès, Neiman Marcus, Cartier and more. That man supplies Woody’s with those same quality belts, without the name-brand logo.
“His motto is, ‘We do things no third-world company can duplicate,’ including the backing, filling and top grain leather, cement and thread,” Wood said.
Lizard, snakeskin, ostrich, shark, calf and other exotic leathers are available for Wood to order. As a result, he is able to offer the same belts available at high-end stores for a quarter of the price.
Boots have also evolved, and devolved, over the years, Wood said. There are many brands he previously recommended that he no longer believes are high-quality. They’ve switched materials, changed their soles and done other things to decrease the longevity of the boot, while retaining the high price tag.
When purchasing boots, people tend to go for the pair that feel buttery-soft and cozy upon first try rather than the ones that feel stiff and not as cozy, Wood explained. However, after a few wears, the initially cozy pair is going to start softening and falling apart. The stiff pair, on the other hand, is going to soften and mold to the wearer’s foot.
“It’s getting them to try to break the boot in; break the shoe in,” he said.
Woody’s sells many lines of boots, and Wood recommends boots that are high-quality and customizable.
“Fifty percent of the boots that come in here today, you can’t put new bottoms on them. Thirty years ago, 100 percent of the boots you could fix; the same with shoes today,” Wood said, offering the following advice for those planning to make an investment in high-quality shoes or boots. “If you can’t figure it out, make sure you can return them. Buy them, bring them in here, and I’ll tell you the truth.”
Synthetic materials and “Made in China” are two things you don’t want to see, he said. Leather lining and uppers, he said, are necessary. And, a leather sole can be switched out for a rubber one, depending on the needs of the shoe.
“It’s like buying a great trench coat,” he said.
During equestrian season, Wood brings a trailer on-site to the horse shows to repair boots. He originally started with one trailer and now has three.
Three machines are on-site and provide repairs at the show grounds, where repairs can be done overnight.
The Woody’s team includes MacDonald “Mac” Thompson, Wood, Wood’s wife, Jacquelyn, and a part-timer during the winter.
The team knows how to take care of, and repair, all leather goods and boots. Woody’s also carries anything you could need to take care of leather items, from lotions to stretchers to many types of sundries.
“All the things you need to nourish, clean, preserve, protect and make it look good,” Wood said.
Woody’s custom-makes leather goods and sells leather purses, wallets and even an elephant-skin briefcase. Armor for re-enactors, western equestrian gear and more can also be made. The store carries heel bases, as well as pieces to repair high-heeled shoes.
Looking for the owner? Wood, a U.S. Air Force veteran, can usually be found at Woody’s with his shih tzu Chloe.
Woody’s of Wellington is open from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, and from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday. The shop is located in the original Wellington Mall at 12794 W. Forest Hill Blvd, Suite 3.
ABOVE: Richard Wood has owned Woody’s of Wellington since 1987.