There is a little boot shop called A. M. Kroop and Sons in historic Laurel that is, in my opinion, a hidden gem. At this shop Randy Kroop, the current owner, makes custom leather riding boots and dress shoes by hand. She’s a friend of my family, so she took me on as a quasi-apprentice, and I’ve been working there every Monday in exchange for a pair of boots.
Working at the shop is one of the coolest jobs I’ve ever had (except for interning at Baltimore Magazine, of course.) Every Monday when I go to work I feel like I’m stepping into the early 1900’s. Randy’s grandfather started the business in 1907, and the process he used when he started making shoes is still used today. Many of the machines are also original, and few of them are less than 70 years old. All of the old tools line the shelves and work desks, and the back wall is covered with wooden lasts.
Throughout the summer I have begun to learn the process of making boots. It is a lot of hard, detailed work. From cutting the leather to stitching pieces together and punching patterns in the toe cap, making boots is certainly an art.
My own pair of boots might not be the best—I’m doing them all myself, so some of the stitching is wonky, the lacings might be a little off-kilter, and I have yet to discover how I will get the soles on the boots. But Randy is an old hand at making boots, and the ones she turns out are beautiful. She makes everything from English riding boots to Oxfords to baby shoes. In addition to making standard sizes, she also makes custom-fit shoes.
Randy’s also a bit of a celebrity in the jockey world—she made the boots for the movie Seabiscuit because her grandfather had made the boots for the original jockey. Carly Simon and Madonna each have a pair or two of her shoes as well.
All in all, it’s one of the most unique shops I’ve ever been in. Definitely worth it to check it out. —Jamie McCoy