MacRostie Leathers - Custom Handmade Footwear

MacRostie Leathers

MacRostie Leathers product line of moccasins, boots, shoes
Lyle and Elaine in their shop

Reprinted with permission from the Western Itasca Review -   October 13, 1994
by Richard Thomas

Lyle and Elaine MacRostie of Spring Lake carry on a famous shoemaking craft that originated back in 1850.

The Gokey Company of Jamestown combined European hard soles with a Native American leather design and sold them through Abercrombie and Fitch in New York. It relocated to St Paul in 1920 and became the oldest mail-order company in America.

Lyle became an apprentice at the Gokey factory in 1971, funded by his GI bill. At the time, the business consisted of nine old masters, most of them Holocaust survivors, in a small sweatshop. The G.I. Bill Administration had no program for custom bootmaker apprenticeships, so Lyle convinced them to create one.

Elaine, who grew up in Spring Lake as a member of the Dowling family, also became an apprentice in 1976. Later they opened their own storefront business in St. Paul, doing contract work for Gokey's and building up their own customer base. Twelve years ago they moved up north and set up their home in a former wild rice processing plant.

Meanwhile Gokey's nine masters retired and in 1990 the company was bought by Orvis, the second-oldest mail-order company in America. Orvis shut down the Gokey factory in 1992. "We carry the torch," Lyle said.

The MacRostie shop, in the back room of their house, is a small room filled with leather, wooden molds, antique iron equipment, and the Moody Blues on CD. "Nothing goes out that we both don't work on," said Elaine.

Their boots are in such demand that they get plenty of business merely by word of mouth and by appearing at four craft shows each summer. Last year they won the Craftsman of the Year Award at the Park Point Show in Duluth. For the past nine years they've been to the annual July 4 Lincoln Center Craft Fair, but may forego it next year as New York City is such a hassle to go to.

The boots are more oriented to recreation and everyday wear than work; steel toes just don't fit into the design. Customers pay half up front and wait about six months to get their boots by mail.

Prices [are high but they are] worth it; they last three times longer than factory-made boots, if not more. Lyle has worn the same pair for the last 10 years. One Gokey customer who had his boots for 30 years went to the MacRosties to get replacements.

One reason the boots last so long is they're custom designed and don't have to be broken in. The buyer's foot is carefully measured, traced on a piece of paper, and side notes are made about the arches and insteps. The MacRosties invite people to send the boots in when they need repairs.

They used to make sandals, but the endless stitching was too hard on the hands. They kept raising the price but people kept ordering them, so they finally had to remove them from the catalogue. They might start them up again, if they ever hire someone with an especially strong pair of hands, but adding another employee hasn't entered into their plans just yet.

They realize they could make the business bigger, since the demand is clearly out there. "We muse about it," said Elaine. "But there's freedom in having our own business, no one else to be responsible to. Besides, you have time to bake bread when you're at home." It's satisfaction enough, she added, "to make the best shoe ever made in the world."


MacRostie Leathers
51211 County Road 4
Spring Lake, MN 56680

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