Juan Carlos Mora may not be the last cowboy in San Francisco, but he is the lone ranger of retailers to outfit them. Now, after two decades of running OK Corral Western and Work Wear, he’s calling it quits.
“We are closing because the whole demographic [of the city] has changed a lot,” said Mora, who opened OK Corral at 2521 Mission St. in 1996. It is, he said, the only Western wear store in the Mission, and one of few left in town.
Mora estimates that 40 percent of his customers – working-class Latino families and immigrants – have left the rapidly gentrifying city in recent years. “Those were our customers, but they are not here anymore.”
Mora says he has a year left on his lease but is hoping to step out of it in the next two or three months. Too few people come in to buy the hats and boots that have long been his best sellers.
“Like many of my customers, I wear boots everyday,” he said pointing to a pair of weathered, gray leather boots on his own feet.
A faint leather scent lingers in the 2,500-square-foot retail space lined with rows of cowboy boots varying in design, brands, and cost. Mora, from Guadalajara, imports many of his handmade products from “small people and manufacturers in Mexico,” and said he is proud to have supported “these companies that are also having a hard time” for so many years.
“If this place closes, I can’t imagine where I’ll go to get my shoes,” said Walton Jeronimo, who has been Mora’s customer for two years. He said that the store sells huaraches, or traditional sandals, and Western gear of the same caliber as in his hometown in Guatemala.
“This reminds me a lot of back home, where the campesinos wear these types of clothing,” he said. “I like the style and I wear it to go out on the weekends.”
Rosalba Huerta, one of Mora’s customers from Mexico, called the story “very authentic” but also “very expensive. Probably because it is the only one.”
With boots ranging from $200 to $700 a pair, walking in the shoes of a cowboy isn’t cheap, but in anticipation of his store closing, Mora recently slashed his prices in half.
“The price is definitely not cheap, but it’s hard to find this anywhere else,” said Jeranimo.
OK Corral started as a small family endeavor 23 years ago, when Mora helped his father sell leather products at a Southern California flea market.
“It was a hot product when we got involved,” remembered Mora. “I loved doing business with it so much, so I kept it going until today.”
Mora and his father ran their Western gear business out of another location between 22nd and 23rd streets on Mission street until Mora decided to open OK Corral on his own in 2008.
Hit hard by the 2008 recession, Mora said he “came out of it” through grassroots advertising strategies and flyering to promote his business up and down Mission Street. Of the two other Western stores that operated in the neighborhood at that time, Mora said he is the last one standing.
“This is a very specialized business, and as far as I understand there is no other [store like this] anymore,” said Mora. “The city used to have a couple more a few years ago, one on Valencia Street and another here on Mission Street. But they are long gone.
Some of Mora’s customers are unsure of where to shop for cowboy attire once he, too, closes his doors.
“My customers are already asking me where can they find boots now. But I honestly don’t know…maybe East Bay or San Jose, I tell them,” said Mora, who currently lives with his family in Vacaville, where he operates another Western store. Once Ok Corral shutters, he plans on focusing on that location.
Despite attempts to tailor his business to the newcomers by bringing in brand names and lowering his prices, he failed to get much new business.
“The new people, they do come in sometimes, but this is not their everyday-use product,” said Mora. “They only buy these clothes for special events. My other customers, they wear this product almost every weekend. That’s the huge difference.”