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Local bootmaker puts his soul, and sense of humor, into his work

Meet Peter Limmer of Limmer Boot Co. in Intervale

The boots on the left, above, were originally crafted in 1950 and are now back on the shelf in the shop to be sold on consignment. The pair on the right is a 2010 model. (Dick Pollock Photo). (click for larger version)
August 26, 2010
"My grandfather was a master boot maker in Germany. He moved his family to Jamaica Plain in Massachusetts in 1925," says Peter Limmer, grandson of the first Peter Limmer and now the bootmaker at Limmer Boots in Intervale. "There was much unrest and a recession in Germany at the time. Everything he [grandfather] had was confiscated in Germany because of the turmoil. He came to America as a pauper. He used his last 50 cents to get his trunk off the boat," says Limmer.

Peter Sr. did what many immigrants in those days did — worked hard and made a name for himself, working together with his wife, Maria. "My grandmother did the sewing and then went home at 3:30 p.m. to begin dinner preparation," Limmer said.

The couple enjoyed outfitting famous mountaineers, and has bragging right to the first ski boot made. Peter Sr. also enjoyed a joke or two.

"My grandfather made boots for the Harvard Outing Club and told the Harvard boys that whomever could successfully put all 10 wooden plugs in the sole of the boots would get a free pair. What my grandfather didn't tell them was that the last awl to complete the 10 was empty," laughs Limmer. He also used to tell people the boots have a 100 percent lifetime guarantee as long as you don't wear them, says Limmer.

All kidding aside, grandfather Limmer may have liked a joke or two, but he also handed down a trade unknown to most and still going strong, with his namesake now making boots that do last a lifetime.

Limmer Boots have been made here in the Valley since 1950, when Peter Sr. moved his family to Intervale.

"My grandfather taught the trade to my Dad and my uncle, who taught the trade to me and my cousin Carl," says Limmer. "I grew up here. I would have to go through the shop when I returned home from school, but I was never pushed into the business."

Presently, Limmer and his cousin Carl run the business, but they have split the enterprise in two. Carl Limmer runs the mail order portion, Limmer Boots, Inc., and Peter says he wanted to keep the quaint shop and continues to make the boots with Ken Smith for Peter Limmer and Sons. Smith is the cobbler who repairs the boots, and Limmer is the cord wainer who makes them.

As Limmer tells his story, he and Smith banter back and forth, laughing and joking while they work. People ask Limmer if he grew up in the business and he answers, "I got old here. I don't know if I ever grew up."

You see, Limmer has his grandfather's sense of humor and his boot making skill, too.

LIMMER boots have a special quality all their own that only Limmer knows. "It is the quality of the leather we use and there is only one seam in the boot," explains Limmer. "It is an all-leather boot, no Gore-tex or cordova," he adds. The boots are old- school custom boots; not one-size-fits-all.

Limmer begins the boot-making process by tracing the customer's foot. He suggests that the customer come into the shop to have their foot measured at a time when the foot is not stressed, but relaxed.

"A non-stressed foot is two percent smaller than a stressed foot. A foot is stressed right after hiking," explains Limmer. The beauty of the leather is that, once greased, it will break in and expand to fit the foot.

It takes 32 hours to make a boot, with the most time spent making the foot model which, Limmer says, takes one third of his time. The models are built out of racks of lasts in incremental sizes of 5 to 15 and widths from A to 4E. The biggest boot Limmer ever made was a size 18, width 8E, and the smallest was women's size 3-1/2. Limmer spends 16 hours hands-on, and then it takes 16 hours for the boots to cure and dry. He says he has his own assembly line.

The basic boots cost $675, although some customers opt for $250 worth of options in addition. "The options are the padding, which helps with the fit, though the original boot was not padded; my grandfather didn't subscribe to padding," he says. "The padded boots are the Cadillac of boots."

The Cadillac costs $900. Back in 1950 Limmer boots cost $36. When his grandfather moved to the Valley he dropped the price to $28.50 to adapt to the local customers.

SO, Who are the cusT-omers? Well, they come from all over the world: some famous people, some famous mountaineers, some not so famous.

"I like to say we have every major peak covered. That's evident by the photos and testimonials hanging in the shop and pseudo museum. Mountain-eers will go on memorable hikes and just send back pictures of their feet in Limmer boots," Limmer pointed out with a grin. Limmer has made boots for C. Everett Koop, Chief Justice Douglas, and Ralph Nader. "We are making boots for their grandchildren and for fourth generations," says Limmer.

His boots have climbed the three snow covered peaks of the equator (Mountains of the Moon, Mt. Kilimanjaro, and Mt. Kenya) and base camp at Mt. Everest. Limmer even has customers from Hawaii and as far away as Tasmania.

"The customer from Tasmania flew 30 hours to get here to get fitted for his boots," says Limmer. "One customer from Hawaii has five or six pair of boots. He hikes the Himalayas every year. He is 82 years old and sends me coffee beans from Hawaii."

Most customers usually only have one pair of boots, as Limmer boots have a storied longevity. Limmer says that most of his clientele aren't rich, that if you amortize the cost over the life of the boots, the cost is actually half the original price. Smith and Limmer are still repairing a boot a customer has owned since 1948. Business has been holding strong and Limmer says he has work for 18 months out. He works a 40-hour week and makes 225 boots a year.

How do they get the word out? Word of mouth and testimonials. "Of course, it helps when someone does a piece for a magazine or newspaper," says Smith. Just recently, Limmer Boots was featured on a segment of "Bill Green's Maine."

the testimonials are what reach the public.

Limmer tells of one customer who was hiking in Japan. He took a break to visit one of the temples where visitors are required to take their shoes off. One lady looked at his boots and remarked, "That's why I wear sandals to the temples." The boot owner was explaining that his boots were handmade in New Hampshire and another visitor overheard and yelled out, "Those must be Limmer Boots!"

Limmer likes to tell stories about his boots and likes to tell about the history of the circa 1854 building in Intervale where the boots are made. Limmer explains there was once an inn on the property, which sadly burned down. "In those days they used straw and saw dust as insulation; it was probably spontaneous combustion," Limmer theorized.

The property's real claim to fame was that it served as a dance hall in the 1930s, first known as the Intervale Playground and then later Harmony Acres Dance Hall. "They used to sell tickets to the dances. Tickets were $0.83 with a $0.17 tax. Funny, there were no taxes then... must have been a tax for tourists," says Limmer.

The dance hall was a special place. Back in the late 1980s a woman came to visit and asked Limmer if she could go out back to the dance hall where, the visitor divulged, she met her husband in the 1930s. Lo and behold, there on the wall was a heart with the initials of both the visitor and her husband carved in wood.

That love story transfers to Limmer's love for his work. "I enjoy what I do, and I have been a boot maker for 36 years. We have been fortunate to nurture a business handed down to us."

For more information, visit www.limmercustomboot.com or call the shop at 356-5378.

Martin Lord Osman
Varney Smith
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