It was right around Thanksgiving a few years back when Curtis Allen stopped by a store looking for some nice new boots. He spotted a pair in the store's catalog, but no clerk would order them for him. It was the holiday season, they said -- too busy. Daunted but not dashed, he tracked down an outlet retailer and found the style he'd wanted. Then he bought more boots from the wholesaler. Soon, friends started asking, "Can you get some boots for me?" Before he knew it, he was hanging an Al the Boot Man shingle from a storefront on 12th Street. "I basically sell exotic boots," he says. The stylish kickers lining his walls are fashioned from ripply alligator or crocodile hides or ostrich skins polka-dotted with feather bumps or smooth eel peel. He sells elephant-skin boots, shark-skin boots, bull's-neck boots -- even boots with fierce-looking snake heads on the toes. "I'm not a cowboy," says Allen, who graduated from Central High School a few years back. "I'm just a western wearer. I love cowboy clothes."