This iconic Western outlet carries the shoot-from-the-hip style of its late founder.
Under the thoughtful gazes of Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, and other classic western luminaries lining the walls on posters, the Cavender’s sales rep hurries across the polished concrete floor past the wall of Stetson hats to a woman eyeing a pair of fashionable cowboy boots.
As the store’s music turns from the Traveling Wilburys’ “End of the Line” to Johnny Cash’s “A Boy Named Sue,” he finishes answering her questions, then races to the other side of the floor to talk to a man looking to buy steel-toe work boots.
In the moment, it seems a heroic effort to get across the massive Westernwear store, but he does it quickly and with a broad smile, which James Cavender undoubtedly would have appreciated. The late founder may not be as well-known as the singing cowboys looking down on the customers of this particular Cavender’s Western Outfitter store in Centennial, Colorado, but James Cavender remains a Texas icon recognized for his impact on the world of Westernwear.
In January, his efforts and those of his loved ones were lauded as the Cavender family was inducted into the Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame in Fort Worth.
Started in 1965, Cavender’s has grown from a small store in Pittsburg, Texas, to more than 80 locations across the United States today. James passed away in May 2018 at the age of 87, but his legacy is still very much felt by his three sons who currently run the company.
“He was a one-of-a-kind type guy, hard worker, never met a stranger. He loved people, and that means everybody that he met,” son Mike Cavender says. “There was nothing fake about him at all. It was what you see is what you get.”
“He was a character,” says Cavender’s president and eldest son Joe Cavender. “My dad, he had a knack for meeting people, and they just liked dealing with him.”
Youngest son Clay Cavender agrees, adding that his father relished the chance to engage in conversation, whether it was with employees, customers, store managers, boot company executives, or the man mending a fence on his ranch.
“He was just one of those kind of guys [who] just shot from the hip, and people liked doing business with him,” Clay says. “Joe, Mike, and I have also fallen into that trait — we can talk on any level, and I think that James was a great example of that.”
Clay, Joe, and Mike Cavender pose with their father, James Cavender.
James was born in Idabel, Oklahoma, where his parents operated a host of businesses, including a cattle ranch. A U.S. Air Force veteran, he ended up in Texas where he and his wife, Pat, eventually opened a restaurant selling hamburgers in the small town of Pittsburg. Joe says that in the 1960s, his father went into the clothing market and soon began focusing on Westernwear after a shrewd business deal wherein he bought about 7,500 pairs of Larry Mahan cowboy boots when a factory closed in Olathe, Kansas.
“People remember him,” Joe says. “If they ever had one dealing with him before, they always remember it. They always remember the time that they went down to his store and talked to him.”
He was a one-of-a-kind type guy, hard worker, never met a stranger.
He also adds that his father’s ethics and mores never changed, even as their business grew by leaps and bounds over the years.
“Everybody always refers to the ‘Cavender way,’ and I don’t know how to explain that,” Clay says. “But I think the Cavender way is just being good-natured, having just a down-home atmosphere within our stores, with our people, and all of our associates and store managers, all the way down to the stockers.”
Mike says one of his father’s favorite things to do was go out on the sales floor and personally sell a pair of boots to a customer — something he also has learned to love doing. And in every Cavender’s store, just inside the entrance, there’s a large picture of James Cavender sitting in a chair in front of his three sons — still there to enthusiastically greet the customers as they arrive.
Find out more at cavenders.com.
Photography: Matthew Hogan/Courtesy Cavender’s, Courtesy Cavender’s
From the July 2019 issue.