With A Good Gimmick And Catchphrase, One Man Made A Name For Himself In The West Texas Boot Game
By Mitch Borden
If you're in West Texas and have turned on your TV over the last few decades you have probably seen this on your screen: Boots flying at a spry middle-aged man, who is catching them, all while telling you the location of Pee Wee Dalton’s Boots, and trying to get you to buy a pair.
These ads, for Pee Wee Dalton’s Boots, are quick. Thirty seconds — practically on the dot. Pee Wee Dalton, the man in the commercial, talks quickly (sometimes in English and other times in Spanish). It's obvious he's putting a lot of energy into his sales pitch and that he wants anyone who sees the commercial to stop by.
For Lindsay Hendryx, these Pee Wee Dalton commercials have been stuck in her head for almost as long as she can remember. So, she asked Marfa Public Radio’s West Texas Wonders project to find the story behind Pee Wee Dalton and the man behind the commercials.
Hendryx grew up in Alpine and her TV picked up the boot commercials even though she lived more than two hours south of Odessa, where Pee Wee Dalton's located. She says growing up, she and her friends could quote the commercial. It's one, she says, West Texans definitely know, especially the last line.
“At the end [of the commercial] he says, 'and please come see us,'" recalled Hendryx. "Like, emphatic!”
Like Hendryx, Alpine residents still know the commercial and can identify by that frenetic line: "Please come see us!” It's not hard to see why these ads are so memorable. There is frantic energy to it that only low budget local TV ads have — and the last line is catchy.
When walking up to Pee Wee Dalton’s Boots in Odessa, any fear the actual place may not live up to expectations the commercial creates evaporates. Customers are met with a giant fake longhorn skull on the outside of the store. Inside, there's a stuffed buffalo, pictures of cowboys, and rows of colorful boots.
It would all be absurd if it didn't feel so perfect.
On most days when the store is open, Pee Wee Dalton is there. He's either working away in his office or out serving customers. He loves boots, he's obsessed with how they're made and the kind of hides they're made of.
Standing in one of his aisles, he meticulously lists the boots he carries.
“We carry the full quail, ostrich, those are fish boots, alligator boots, hippopotamus…,” trailed off Pee Wee Dalton. “I mean you can see there’s a lot of boots in here.”
At this point in the story, there's one fact that needs to be shared. The man firing off the types of boots that line the aisles here, the man who owns this store is not actually Pee Wee Dalton — his name is Jack Mousa.
The real Pee Wee Dalton doesn't exist, the name's made up.
The way Mousa tells the story, one day he was working with a designer on a sign for his shop. The artist mocked up a logo and — where the store’s name would go — wrote out “Pee Wee Dalton’s” as a placeholder. But Mousa took one look and thought, "Pee Wee Dalton’s, yeah, sure. Sounds good.”
Looking back now, he has some regret. He says, if he had known the store would become so successful, he “would have called it Jack’s Boots Store, something more recognizable.”
But Mousa isn't too upset.
“[The name] works," he says, flanked by rows and rows of quintessential Texas boots. "So I am Pee Wee Dalton.”
Mousa's originally from Brownfield, a quick 40-minute drive south of Lubbock. He and his wife Barbie Mousa opened Pee Wee Dalton's Boots in 1983. Before, the two ran other kinds of stores in other West Texas towns, but never in Odessa. That all changed one trip into the city when he saw cowboy boots going for over $300.
“If people can sell them here for that much here, I can cut the price and make a killing," Mousa
But it wasn't that simple.
“We about starved," recalled Mousa. "We were just starting out and could barely pay the bills.”
He explained there was a lot of competition at the time. It wasn't easy to start a new business. Shortly after he opened Pee Wee Dalton’s, a local director approached him about making a commercial and Jack went for it.
On the day of the shoot though, the director was explaining what he wanted to do, but Mousa didn't like his plan.
“No, that is not the way I want it done,” Mousa told the director.
He wanted to make sure viewers really understood he needed their business. They were struggling afterall.
But, as Mousa tells it, the director just didn't understand. So Jack just started talking about the boots and while he was doing this the director began taping him. When Mousa finally finished, the director said, “We got it, that is our commercial!”
That's how Mousa — now better known as Pee Wee Dalton, the West Texas boot connoisseur — accidentally began his career in television was born.
After three decades, and hundreds of commercials, he says making them is “the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”
But, the reason Mousa's been so prolific is he doesn't want people to get bored. So for years, every six weeks he would film a new one. Today, he's slowed down a bit from that rapid-fire pace. He only makes a new commercial every few months, but he's still going strong.
Along the way, Mousa
At this point, Mousa thinks a handful of people have hurled boots at him — his wife, store employees, anyone who was around really. Throughout his Pee Wee Dalton commercial career, Mousa thinks he's got a roughly 60 percent catch rate.
Mousa swears throwing and catching his boots is harder than it looks.
To test this claim, I met up with our West Texas Wonders question asker Lindsay Hendryx. With a pile of old cowboy boots (and really any heavy shoe we could get our hands on), we made fools of ourselves as we
“If you don’t catch it just right, I’m telling you the heel of that boot just right, it will hurt you," explained Mousa. “I’ve been hit in the forehead one time. Left a mark for two weeks.”
As iconic as the flying boots have become, that isn't what Mousa thinks has made his commercials successful. It's the end, the tagline, where he emphatically says, “please come see us!”
When he was first starting up in Odessa, that line was literally Mousa pleading with people to give him a chance — and they did. But now, after years of success, it's become more of a promise of good service.
For some reason, that closing phrase hit home with one specific demographic — children.
“They tend to get mesmerized by it," says Mousa. “Parents come in here and say a four-year-old can repeat your commercial word for word.”
And for Hendryx that's the experience she had.
“That’s exactly what it was like.” explained Hendryx. “I would see it and be able to repeat it as a small kid.”
Hendryx is in her 30s now, and, believe it or not, in all that time she has never actually been to Pee Wee Daltons. But now, after all this, she thinks she might — if she needs a pair of boots that is.