Nick Mosley and Ryann Ford, co-owners of Townsend Provisions in Round Top, know even more about cowboy boots and rest stops than most Texans. The couple, who split their time between Austin and Round Top, got their start in retail thanks to vintage cowboy boots. Ford, an architectural photographer, released a critically acclaimed book on America’s vanishing rest stops earlier this year. To further add to their creative bona fides, Mosley is a specialty contractor who converts old homes into office spaces.
“Round Top is so different from Austin,” Ford said. “We get to live two lives. During the week, we are deadline-driven, overworked, overscheduled Austin folk, but come Friday we get to embrace a slower, more deliberate pace and turn into country folk. It’s a wonderful split-personality life.”
The Road to Round Top Retailing
Vintage boots have long been a Mosley family affair.
“We got into the business out of necessity about 10 years ago,” Mosley said. “My niece, who was turning 13 at the time, wanted a pair of boots. New ones were way too pricey, so my mom and stepdad hit the road searching for boots.”
The couple found plenty in and around their home in Bandera, the self-proclaimed “Cowboy Capital of Texas.” They found so many in fact that they started selling the extras off their porch. They then expanded the range of their searches.
“The boot business was a good thing,” Mosley said. “They were basically retired, and looking for boots gave them a reason to explore Texas.”
Three years ago the Mosley family conducted an experiment. They loaded a selection of vintage boots into a refurbished circa 1950s camp trailer and created at pop-up boot room during the fall antiques show in Round Top.
“Wherever my mom moved, she set up a vintage boot shop that we basically supplied out of the house,” Mosley, who claims to have been a resident of every major Texas city and most of its suburbs, said. “We just came to the Round Top show to see how we’d do.”
They did quite well. As fate would have it, the camper was set up on the exact spot that is now home to Townsend Provisions. During the first show, the family met the previous owners of Rummel Square then named “The Village Green.” After a conversation or 10, the elder Mosleys decided to move to Round Top and open a boot shop.
When the block that housed Rummel Square sold in 2015, its new owner Mark Massey asked the Mosleys to remain as a foundation tenant. The building that housed the boot shop was going to be torn down, but Massey offered them a larger building.
Knowing his mom was ready to retire permanently, Mosley went home and asked Ford, “What do you think about opening a bigger shop in Round Top?”
Her initial response was caveat-filled and noncommittal, but they agreed the space was too big for just boots.
While mulling over the idea of opening the shop, Ford called her mother, who is an antiques buyer in the Midwest, to share the notion and to ask if she would help source unique vintage pieces. A few months later, the couple loaded up a semi-truck trailer of one-of-a-kind finds to bring to Round Top for their first show. It was fall 2015.
Townsend Provisions offers American-made products
“Ryann and I both believe in the value and quality of ‘made in America,’” Mosley said. “We also enjoy discovering and supporting those artisans who pride themselves on high-quality, hand-made goods.”
Ford remained cautious until she laid eyes on the building, a 1920s farm house. Mosley’s mom discovered the building through a friend. She told Massey about the diamond in the rough, who purchased it, moved it and undertook the restoration to make it sparkle.
Chris McCray, an Austin-based interior designer and friend who introduced Mosley and Ford to one another, helped the couple create their aesthetic.
Because the shop offers a mix of their favorite things, it took the couple a while to find the words they felt accurately and fully describe it. Today, if asked, they agree: “The shop is a thoughtfully curated collection of one-of-a-kind vintage furniture pieces, home goods, and accessories. From vintage industrial classics and mid-century gems to handcrafted goods made by local designers, Townsend Provisions provides a modern take on the classic general store.”
Mosley added, “It’s comfortable, warm, welcoming and hopefully curated in a way that makes customers want to take our finds home and make them part of their lives.”
While coming up with an appropriate descriptor for the shop temporarily flummoxed the couple, they were always crystal clear about their goals for the business.
“The whole feeling of Townsend Provisions was inspired by an old-fashioned general store,” Mosley said. “We envisioned standing behind the counter and engaging people as they came into the store, just the way it used to be. We want to build relationships that will make us all better in the long run.”
Buying (Vintage) Boots Like a Pro Named Nick Mosley * Define vintage. For us, its boots that are at least 25 years old. Big name boot companies like Justin and Tony Lama were American-made from high-quality leather then. * Don’t be afraid of Mexico. The Mexican artisans are “boot masters.” * Look for quality. * Don’t downplay comfort. Everybody seems to like boots that don’t fit them. If they don’t fit well, you won’t wear them no matter how great they look. * Let your personality shine. After you address quality and comfort, the rest is about personality—yours and the boots.
A Tall Tale Mosley and Ford met on a blind date three years ago. According to Mosley, it happened like this:
“I was working on a project for Chris McCray at his house. He’s an interior designer in Austin, who eventually helped us design Townsend Provisions, but that’s jumping way ahead.
Anyway, he, his wife and I were discussing how hard it was to meet people in Austin now that it’s a big-time city.
A few days later my phone rang. It was Chris. He didn’t even say hello, instead he just asked, ‘How tall are you?’
‘With or without boots?’
‘5’ 11 ¾ ”.”
He hung up without another word. I assumed he was buying me a t-shirt.
A few days later I got an email from his wife. This gist was that she and Chris, who worked with Ryann, thought I should give her a call.
Unbeknownst to me, I literally had to measure up. Ryann is 5’11’ and she wouldn’t agree to go out with anyone who was shorter. Good posture and a fraction of an inch—they changed my life forever and for the better.”
What’s in a name? Townsend Provisions is a historical reference to Round Top’s original name.
“Nothing stuck until we did some research and discovered this place used to be called Townsend,” Mosley said. “It just seemed right for history to come full circle.”
The Last Stop: Vanishing Rest Stops of the American Roadside
In the process of creating The Last Stop: Vanishing Rest Stops of the American Roadside, photographer Ryann Ford traveled to 21 states and shot more than 400 rest stops. Her seven-year quest was fueled by an appreciation of the structures’ architecture and design, not a sense of nostalgia.
“I grew up in California where the rest stops were utilitarian, not whimsical or functionally elegant,” Ford, who earned her B.A. from the prestigious Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara, Calif., said. “While my family took road trips when I was a kid, memories of picnicking roadside aren’t a significant part of my childhood experience.”
The rest stops first piqued her interest as she drove from California to Austin when she relocated in 2007.
“I was drawn to the mid-century architecture of the vintage picnic areas,” Ford said. “They were so photogenic and beautiful—and very often were set in a minimalist landscape. They just screamed, ‘Photograph us.’”
The rest stops continued to catch her attention as she crisscrossed Texas and the country on assignments for Texas Monthly, Southern Living, Garden and Gun and other publications. While her professional gigs kept her busy, Ford, as photographers are wont to do, was searching for a personal passion project.
One night, at the height of the 2008 recession, she googled “rest stops” and was surprised to find a huge cache of news stories. Rest stops across the country were in jeopardy as states slashed their budgets to cope with the economic downturn.
Through her research, Ford learned of the imminent destruction of an iconic rest stop just outside Flower Mound, Texas. Its roof lines mimicked the curve of longhorn’s horns, and the walls were adorned with Texas flags. She made a special trip to photograph the rest stop. One month later it was gone.
“I couldn’t believe that all of these roadside symbols of Americana were systematically being demolished,” Ford, who traces her initial interest in photography to a Pentax camera her father brought back from his service in Vietnam, said. “The realization kicked me into gear.”
For several years, she kept her project under wraps, amassing a collection of images as time and opportunity allowed. Then, the New York Times caught wind of her work and published a series of the photographs in its weekend magazine. The response was overwhelmingly positive.
Ford then began searching for a publisher. Photography books are notoriously expensive to print, so the publisher encouraged her to launch a Kickstarter campaign to help cover the production costs. While Ford was leery of the prospect, the fundraising campaign took off, raising $36,000 from 400 different donors. In the process, it created a gallery of well-wishers who were invested in her success.
“The fundraising campaign rallied so many people behind the project,” she said. “This book was their baby, too.”
After a year-long production schedule that allowed her to work alongside noted Texas book designer D. J. Stout, the book was released in May. Since then, Ford has been caught up in a whirlwind of promotion and wide-spread acclaim.
“The photos affect different people different ways,” Ford said. “For Baby Boomers, and those a little older, it strikes a chord of nostalgia as they remember rambling across the country with their families. Younger people respond to the lure of the road—the promise of discovery that comes with a road trip. And then there are those who are simply captivated by the uniquely American design and architecture that the rest stops embody.
“For me, it’s satisfying to know that my work resonates with many people on many levels.”
The Last Stop: Vanishing Rest Stops of the American Roadside is available at Townsend Provisions on Rummel Square in Round Top or at
by Lorie Woodward Cantu
photos courtesy of Ryann Ford