The dizzying array of cowboy boots in outlandish colors like Easter egg blue or shocking pink fills the aisles of the store.
In a corner of the Cowboys Western Wear store at 1938 S. Sixth Ave., amid the smell of exotic leathers, Larry Mahan Western hats and Western pearl snap shirts, lay a few simple Mexican huaraches, or indigenous leather sandals.
Few believe store owner Mauro Muñoz when he tells people that he started out by selling six pairs of huaraches on a street corner.
Even fewer would have predicted that Muñoz’s store would turn out to be a hit. From Tucson’s working-class laborers to lovers of Western flair like U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva (who is really into cowboy boots), the store sees a steady string of customers all day.
An easygoing, burly man with a mustache, Muñoz has a voice — loud — that carries over the entire store when he talks in Spanish in his lively accent from his home state of Sinaloa. He makes it a point to personally greet every customer.
Muñoz, 54, loves Western clothing, but he readily admits that he’s no fashion expert. Still, businesswise, he said he is emboldened by two key factors: He believes that he has God on his side and knows how to treat his customers well and make them feel at home.
On a recent Friday, José Hernández, a construction worker in his 50s, seemed at home at Muñoz’s store. His wife and nephew took him there so he could choose something for his birthday.
“He has always wanted a hat, some boots and a belt,” said Diego Ramírez, Hernández’s nephew, as his uncle tried out a straw hat.
With his big but agile hands, Muñoz shows Hernández some yellow boots made in Mexico. After a few tryouts, Hernández chooses some boots, belt and a straw hat.
“It’s not about brands, it’s about styles,” Muñoz said. “You have to know what people like.”
Muñoz believes in styles so much that he has his own brand of boots he helps design called “El Mudo” (The Mute), a nickname that was given to him by a relative because he didn’t speak until he was 8 years old.
But Muñoz’s creations were not always in high demand. Before he ventured into Western wear, Muñoz, whose home state in Mexico is south of Sonora, spent years working as a carpenter in California cities including San Jose. It was there that a friend complimented his simple Mexican sandals, offering to buy them.
For Muñoz, it was like a revelation. He quickly went to a swap-meet vendor and implored him to sell him some sandals on credit.
“I got down on my knees and begged,” he recalled.
The vendor gave him six pairs of sandals. On a street corner, Muñoz sold them in less than an hour.
“I said to myself, ‘this is good business,’ ” he recalls. “That motivated me to start my own business.”
He has not looked back since. From sandals — which he still carries in his store — he went to cowboy boots. Someone told him that the market looked good in Phoenix so he moved there.
Once in Phoenix, people told him that Tucson needed a Western store with more Latino styles. In 2000, he opened a store on 12th Avenue and named it “El Mudo.”
Though sales were good, they were not up to Muñoz’s goals, so he and his wife, Sonia Muñoz, decided to move to South Sixth, give the store an English name and target both the Latino community and English-speaking mainstream customers.
For ranch hands on a budget, he offers quality Western wear at affordable prices. For pickier fashion cowgirls or urban cowboys he shows some limited editions of Cuadra Boots, Mexico’s upscale brand known for its haute couture cowboy boots that are popular with runway models.
The secret of his success is simple, Muñoz said. He follows his instincts and puts his faith in God.
“He’s in charge,” he said.