This time of year, rodeo-goers swamp Texas Junk Company like spring rain on a Houston street. They rifle through busted Zippos, antique tennis racquets and a VHS copy of The Princess Bride, all laid out in a shadowy maze of shelves and tables warmed by the fire in a barrel stove.
Mostly, though, they come for boots — some 1,500 pairs in stock before the rodeo started — with prices written on the soles that start at $30.
“I think I had about $50 when I started this place, enough to pay the rent,” Robert Novotney says.
That was in 1979, and he’s kept it casual ever since. Dispensing greetings, jokes and charm to a steady stream of boot-seeking customers, Novotney’s help finding the perfect pair is half the fun of visiting the store.
Need a ladies 9 1/2 for less than $50? You’re in luck. Kids want to look the part while roaming the rodeo? No problem. Need something he doesn’t have? He’ll tell you where to get it. Just be sure to come on a Thursday, Friday or Saturday, as those are the only days he’s open.
While ringing up customers on an antique cash register and entering sales longhand in a paper ledger, Novotney says he got started selling used stuff for an interior decorator out of a building across town marked by a 4-by-8 plywood sign and lacking electricity. He left Houston for a few years, working on a fire crew in Alaska and traveling through Central America before opening the store at its current location in Hyde Park.
Its reputation grew among savvy antique hunters for hidden bargains. Its boot collection made it Houston’s go-to place for weekend cattlemen, growing youngsters and everyone else who doesn’t want to shell out $200 on footwear to embrace their inner cowboy.
Buy a pair of boots and there’s a good chance you’ll go home with a story, too. Novotney closes the shop for seven weeks in August and September to make his annual pilgrimage to the infamous Burning Man art festival in the Nevada desert. Along the way, he buys about 150 pairs of used boots in all shapes and sizes from towns across the American West. Shoot the breeze in his store, and he’ll tell you about his annual two-week trips to Alaska in the summer to visit his family.
Like a trip to the Beer Can House or the Art Car Parade, the Texas Junk Company is one of those local institutions every Houstonian ought to check out at least once. It’s hardly a secret, having been profiled in Lucky, Elle and about every publication in town. But you’d never know that walking past the old Jacuzzis and weather-beaten furniture lined up outside.
“I don’t give a shit about money as long as I have enough to pay the bills,” Novotney says as he rings up another happy customer.
That's as authentic Houston as the 1,000-plus used cowboy boots you’ll find inside.