Imperial Boots was first opened 47 years ago by John Stathoudakis, an immigrant boot-maker from Crete, who remained the sole owner throughout the shop’s storied history. It closed upon his retirement in the fall of 2016 when John’s only employee and apprentice fell ill. Though John exuberantly claims “if I had someone experienced to help I wouldn’t have closed, I would have stayed open 5 years, maybe 10 years more”.
John’s story is one of hardship and triumph. As a new immigrant to Canada in 1968, and speaking no English, he began working as a cleaner for a year until he was hired on as an apprentice at a boot maker. John feel in love with making boots, and it is no wonder since he was very fast and could make boots and shoes of incredibly high quality. Making up to 11 pairs of shoes in a day on a set wage John felt that his skills were not being adequately compensated and decided to venture out on his own.
John opened Imperial Boots in 1970, renting the shop from Mr. Ron Vinberg’s father for $250 a month. John worked for a full month making shoes and preparing the shop before opening. To his dismay, no one entered the shop for the first month after opening. Walking to work each day, since he could not afford the metro, and laboring in the shop from 6:00am to midnight John remained motivated and, before long he began to see customers in his shop.
After a few years in business John began to garner a reputation for his high quality custom shoes. Some tried to be his business partners while others opened competing shops nearby on Sherbrooke but John wasn’t worried; “somebody said, ‘John nobody will force you to close because you know the job…’ I know everything, because I didn’t make just boots, I make everything. High heels, flat heels, platforms, high boots, long boots, short boots, any kind, any size”.
John made custom shoes for Montreal locals and celebrities alike, including Sharon Stone who ordered three custom pairs of boots, a wrestler who boasted the biggest shoes John ever made at size 21.5, and a California musician who once customer ordered 12 pairs of crocodile shoes and 2 pairs of ostrich boots totaling nearly $20,000 back in the 1990s.
John Stathoudakis prided himself on creating custom, intricately crafted boots for a loyal customer base from the 1970s onwards. Imperial Boots was the first Greek custom boot shops in Montreal, of which there were many more in the 1970s and 1980s, and the last to remain in the neighbourhood. An intriguing and quirky local landmark, the Imperial Boots sign houses a real white leather boot suspended inside the sign, surrounded by a rectangle of small marquee lights.
The Imperial Boots sign was purchased by John for $600 and installed in June of 1970. About the name ‘Imperial Boots’, John says, “just down the street was Imperial Cinema…I said to myself this is a big name! This name is good.”