- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 29, 2001

Tommy and Sandy Thompson have a couple of things in common with George W. Bush: a Pennsylvania Avenue address and a deep affection for cowboy boots a winning combination, as it turns out.
The couple own Red River Western Wear, a little-known store until the presidential inauguration, when Texas Black Tie and Boots Inaugural Ball attendees flocked to the store like bees to honey in search of the perfect boots to go with the gown or tux.
Ever since then, business at 641 Pennsylvania Ave., at Sixth Street SE, has blossomed.
"We had the major networks here," Mrs. Thompson says. "CNN, MSNBC, Fox. It went nationwide, and I have even started getting orders by phone."
Mrs. Thompson, who moved into the location in October 1997, estimates that business has gone up by 30 percent in the first quarter of this year, compared to the comparable period last year.
"I give President Bush a lot of credit. The biggest boss is wearing boots. He's a Texan, and he's proud of it," Mrs. Thompson says.
Western-wear stores outside Washington are doing well, too. George Wagner, who co-owns J.W.'s Western Wear in Waldorf, Md., with his wife, Jeannie, says sales are up from last year, even if the increase isn't as dramatic as for Red River, which has a prime location for events on and around Capitol Hill.
"[Sales] have been increasing, and I think more and more people are going to find out that boots are more comfortable than tennis shoes," Mr. Wagner says, hinting at an even brighter future.
Tammy Webster, who co-owns Cahoots Western Apparel in Woodbridge, Va., with her husband, Rodger, says business is going so well that she may open a satellite store in Fredericksburg, Va., within a year.
"I don't know if it's for the grace of God or if it's the president, but we're doing very well," Mrs. Webster says.

Ball-goers and Texas natives are not the only ones to patronize Western-wear stores.
Most of Mrs. Thompson's business comes from a very diverse group of locals, perhaps typical for Capitol Hill.
On a recent afternoon, when spring for the umpteenth time couldn't decide whether to stay or go, a part-time rocker, a weekend cowboy and an architect browsed and bought Western gear in Mrs. Thompson's store.
Musician Sonny Simpson, 27, who plays bass in a death-metal bluegrass band, a sort of musical alliance formed by heavy metal and bluegrass, was looking for an all-black shirt with snap buttons to wear onstage when he performs with the band Breazeale.
"These are really good prices," Mr. Simpson, 27, said while fingering through the rows of shirts, some with stitching and fringe, others with silk details and loud colors.
Mr. Simpson, who went to school in Nashville, Tenn., says wearing Western clothes gives a lot of people transplanted from the West or South a sense of home in the big city.
"There's a feeling of displaced Southernness," he says. "Places like this help."
Mrs. Thompson agrees, calling her store "the shop for all the misplaced cowboys."
Her definition of who's a cowboy is broad. It includes anyone with the right attitude and courage to stand out a little.
One of the boot brands, Sage, has a telling label. It reads, "Some Attitude Required."
Judging from her own garb, Mrs. Thompson is a cowgirl. Over a brown dress, tight at the top and flowing at the bottom, she wears a turquoise suede cape with fringe and matching jewelry and boots. Her makeup is thick, and her blond hair is unbound.
One new group of customers is young girls. The trend has been called "cowgirl chic" and includes low-cut, tight jeans and minimal tops and, of course, boots.
Mrs. Thompson has almost sold out her leopard-print bustier, which comes with a fringe jacket. Another best seller is a tiger-print set of stretch pants and a tight, tiny top.
"You know how girls are. If one girl wears something, then everyone has to wear it," she says.
It's unclear who started the Western-wear trend among teens, but Madonna and the Houston pop trio Destiny's Child definitely had something to do with it, Mrs. Thompson says.
At Cahoots, Mrs. Webster also has noticed an increase in sales among women and plans to expand that department of her store.
Sometimes, neighborhood schoolchildren who visit Mrs. Thompson's store receive a lesson in culture and fauna.
"They come in here and wonder what the cowhide is. They say, 'Is that a bear?' and I tell them it's a cowhide. They ask me about the stuffed armadillo. They've never seen anything like it," Mrs. Thompson says.
The No. 1 best seller at Red River is boots, which range from $99 to $650 for adults. Cahoots Western Apparel and J.W.'s Western Wear also sell more boots than anything else.

Owners of all three stores agree it's important that customers walk out with the right look and feel. That's how you get repeat customers, they say.
"If boots are fitted properly, the breaking-in time is about 15 minutes," Mrs. Thompson says.
At least 20 percent of her clientele consists of homosexual men who live in the city and on weekends participate in out-of-town rodeos arranged by gay rodeo clubs.
Patrick Hunter, 38, a Capitol Hill resident who takes part in these rodeos at least four times a year, has bought at least four pairs of boots at Red River Western Wear.
"Boots are just so comfortable," Mr. Hunter says. "For a while, I worked in a bookstore, and I was on my feet for eight hours a day. They were the only shoes that were comfortable all day," he says.
Mr. Hunter is a regular at the store and was one of several loyal customers Mrs. Thompson put to work the Friday before the Texas ball to help with the invasion of customers.
Since then, several Cabinet members and representatives from the Texas delegation have been in the store, but Mrs. Thompson wants to protect their privacy and does not release names.
However, she did say recently that President Bush, who often wears upscale Lucchese boots, which Mrs. Thompson carries at $575, had not been in the store.
Lunch-break customer John Hellmuth, who works on Capitol Hill as an architect, came into the store to look at boots. He walked out with a whole ensemble, including black boots, black jeans and a black snap-button shirt.
"I didn't expect this," Mr. Hellmuth says, "but it looks good."
Mrs. Thompson never expected business to boom the way it has. When she moved to the Pennsylvania Avenue locale, her landlord said she was crazy to think a Western-wear store would make it in urban Capitol Hill. What would be her market?
As it turned out, people from all walks of life are her customers. But she was determined to live her dream: to own a store in the neighborhood in which she lived.
"I never realized it would go this well. I guess we've got to give Madonna and President Bush a lot of credit," she says.

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