I started by searching online for boot brands that could be repaired. I identified local dealers, figuring that if they carried one or two repairable brands, they'd probably carry others. My first visit was to In Step Leather, a local biker shop. They had a decent selection, but understandably most of their stock was taller than I really wanted. Because I needed to ride a bicycle in winter, I couldn't have my boots restricting ankle movement. They offered to help track down what I needed, if I could come up with a good set of criteria; so I started a list:
- Welt construction
- Steel shank
- 6" height
- Soft toe
- Lug sole
- Brown or tan leather
Along the way, a friend suggested L. L. Bean, which I didn't know carried work boots. It turned out that they had one that fit my criteria, and it was made by Chippewa--one of the brands I had looked at but ruled out because I couldn't find the right style. The local store actually had my size in stock (sort of), and their satisfaction guarantee, free shipping, and no-hassle return policy were some added benefits to consider. Those factors alone would weigh heavily against most other options, where I'd be faced with ordering something online and paying return shipping if it didn't fit.
I also discovered that two of the boots were not made smaller than a size 8, which ruled them out altogether. So my list was down to three. Of those, the L. L. Bean was the most expensive (but with significant benefits, as I already mentioned). The Wolverine (it appears that the 6" is no longer available) was close in price, and both were American-made. But since I couldn't find a local supplier, it wasn't worth the small savings over the L. L. Bean. The remaining option was a Carhartt work boot, made by Red Wing. I discovered when I called about sizing that all Carhartt styles were temporarily discontinued. They had ended their contract with Red Wing and were transitioning to a new manufacturer. This explained why the Red Wing store was listed online as a Carhartt retailer, but said when I visited that they'd stopped carrying them. There were still boots out there in my size, but I would have to order them online, and the more time went on, the harder it would be to exchange them. Still, they could be had for about $50 less than the L. L. Bean, and as far as I could tell, would fit most of my criteria.
The main disadvantage to the L. L. Bean was the price tag. But the advantages were substantial. Again, I could try on the boots in the store and know what I was getting. Even if they didn't have my size in stock, I could order with free shipping and return them to the store if they didn't work out for any reason. L. L. Bean has a lifetime satisfaction guarantee, so that extends the benefit considerably. Also, they were American made, which was one of my top priorities starting out. $50 extra was still a tough pill to swallow, but in the end it seemed like the better option, especially if I could bide my time and wait for a decent sale.
It took a while, but I finally caught a 10% off everything sale for Columbus Day. In the meantime, I'd discovered that I could use points from one of our credit cards toward a $50 L. L. Bean gift card. I returned to the store, so I could try them on one more time, and realized that the medium was very snug. They came in a wide (EE) option, but the store didn't stock them. So I ordered online (knowing I could exchange them for free if they were too big) and waited an extra week for delivery. It was a good move. I don't think my feet are supposed to be EE, but they fit perfectly. The construction is exactly what I wanted, and the quality seems high. Out of my footwear purchases so far, this seems like the biggest win.