It took Jay Rivin a long time to realize that Mesa was the place his shoe store should be.
At 23 in 1957, he was fresh out of the Navy when he opened JR’s Shoes and Boots in Phoenix, explaining, “From the time I was a little kid, I always wanted my own store.”
Now 86, Rivin recalled how he spent six months before he found a location in an empty section of a post office building, partly because “people have to go to the post office and the previous business in that spot – a flower shop – did so well they had to move to a bigger location.”
After almost 40 years, Rivin wanted
a change so he moved the store to Gilbert when its population hovered around 64,000 – barely a quarter of what it is today.
But he didn’t have much success there and wondered what he would do until a man came in looking for a pair of high-top Nike sneakers in a size 13. Turned out that after Rivin measured the boy’s foot, he needed a size 15.
“At that time, I had racks of work shoes on display,” Rivin recalled.
The customer was so impressed he told his boss – who worked for the City of Mesa and was in charge of requisitioning work boots for employees.
Eventually, the city started doing business with him.
“Every assumption I made about going into Gilbert about fitting out children, about selling sneakers, about selling cowboy boots was totally wrong,” Rivin said. “The work shoes, which I didn’t even think about, turned out to be the key ingredient.”
Several years ago, Rivin broke his hip and turned the business over to Aliza and Seth Rosenberg, who moved the store last September to a location near Dobson Road and Main Street in Mesa.
“Part of Jay’s success is not only the loyal customers but we continue his tradition,” said Aliza. “You come in, you get a joke, you get a candy bar because it takes a while to get the right shoes. You sit down and have a drink. We talk. We find out exactly what the customer needs.
“And if I don’t have the boot, if I can’t figure out what exactly they need, I send them somewhere else. I don’t want to sell someone the wrong boot for the wrong job. That’s one of the key principles. It’s on all of our advertising. We’d rather make a friend by selling the right shoe than make an enemy and sell you the wrong shoe.”
She said she and her husband believe in “that old way of customer care.”
“I’ve had women come in here, for example, who could only find three or four pairs of shoes to try on at other stores. They come in here and after the 16th or 17th pair they’re like, ‘Hold on a second, This is too much. I have so many choices,’” Aliza said. “It’s great. I feel like women need to be represented in these fields.”
The store carries some women’s work shoe styles with a little more flair – such as boots in pink, purple and blue – as well as traditional black boots for public safety employees.
“We try to bring things into the store they can’t find somewhere else,” added Aliza. “If you go to some stores, you’re not going to find a men size 17. I probably have six to eight different styles in a size 17 which is incredible. Women’s shoes go down to size 3.”
Seth explained, “I think where we’re succeeding and where we’re looking to grow is we’re bucking this Amazon trend. Many of the things we sell you can get online. You might even be able to get them for a few bucks less.
“But the question is how many times do you send it back and forth?”
“When you buy a pair of boots from us, in general, we don’t just hand you a pair of boots. Depending on the type of boots, we’re going to hand you spare laces or boot care products because we’re investing in you having a quality product…We’re not selling that quick cheap item.”
Aliza said they tell customers, “When you leave the door, you’re not leaving the store.…If you’ve got a problem with your boots — unless it’s on clearance — you come back and I’ll take care of it. Our motto is we’re not going to sell you a pair of boots if it’s not the right boots for the right job.”
And that, Seth added, “is where it differs from the online experience.”
“We make you do a series of contortions, exercises when trying the boot on,” he said.
“We don’t generally let somebody pick up boots for their significant other or a family member because you can’t try them on. In fact, I remember when we first took over, turning several people away and getting people screaming at us over ‘You don’t want my money?’ And I’d say, ‘Not really.’”
Added his wife: “We’re not going to try and get money just to make a sale. It’s not worth it for us. We want you to come back. We want you to tell people about us.”
Information: 62 N. Dobson Road, Mesa. jrsshoesandboots.com, 480-[497-2323