The spring thaw has come early to footwear retailers in the Southeast, according to buyers and vendors at the Atlanta Shoe Market, held Feb. 18-20 at the Cobb Galleria Centre and Renaissance Hotel.

After years of slow sales, retailers reported an improvement in consumer spending in recent months, and they were feeling optimistic about the coming seasons. “Business has been great,” said Todd Hill, VP of Hill’s Shoes in Cana, Va. “We’ve seen sharp increases, mostly because people are buying better shoes — not as many pairs, but better brands and styles. And if things maintain the way they have, I feel positive [about this year]. Because of the fashion trends and the fact that people are spending more for better shoes, I feel optimistic.”

Hill noted that Western boots have long been a staple item in his store, but their recent emergence as a fashion item has boosted profits. “We’re seeing a lot of first-time Western wearers. … It’s the younger girl wanting to see these boots, and then coming back for a second pair.”

A number of traditional bootmakers were exhibiting at the show, including Justin Boots, Lucchese and Durango, but Hill said other companies are also picking up on the Western influence. “There are a lot more options now.”

Indeed, boots of every type were on offer at the trade show, from ankle booties to hikers and shearling looks, and vendors said the trend remains strong, particularly for fashionable items.

“Most retailers sold through our boots this past winter,” said Jeff Bos, national sales manager for Born. “Our styles are not as seasonal, and more and more buyers have come in saying they did well.”

Lacey Moldow, assistant manager of Sole, a women’s boutique with two locations in Atlanta, said she liked the Southwestern vibe showing up for fall, with Navajo prints being used on boot shafts and shearling moccasins. However, she added that the overall boot trend is getting a bit tired. “I would like to see something different happen,” she said. “And right now, the most innovative product is coming from Jeffrey Campbell.”

In addition to Campbell, Sole also stocks labels such as Seychelles, Naughty Monkey and Lovely People. But Moldow said there are no plans to add new brands for fall. “We didn’t see as much [product] that was new at the show,” she said.

With the boot movement continuing, many vendors aimed to add fresh interest with unique material combinations.

“A lot of retailers were thinking cautiously about [their buys] this past season,” said Jason Protano, a sales representative for Clarks, which revamped its Unstructured line for fall with new materials. “So we need to help them by updating the product.