When Charlie and Courtnay McGinness married in 2005, they had an agreement. He desperately wanted to own a business and she really wanted to have babies.
Sixteen years later, the McGinnesses are co-owners of the Chattanooga Shoe Company, a trend-setting boutique on the North Shore. Meanwhile, the couple welcomed their third child earlier this summer.
So far, so good.
Along the way, Courtnay learned she, too, had an entrepreneurial streak. Working in retail since she was a teenager, Courtnay says she gets satisfaction from getting to know (and serve) her Chattanooga Shoe Company customers.
"I fell in love with helping customers," she says. "Now, being a business owner is a big passion of mine, too."
The Chattanooga Shoe Company at 2 North Shore has become a hot shopping destination for hundreds who appreciate a shoe store curated for both style and comfort. The McGinnesses search worldwide for brands that meet their strict standards. The store shelves are full of sandals, wedges, slides, sneakers, clogs and boots. The store features such brands as Birkenstock, Dansko, OTBT, Blundston and Naot, among others.
Some of the styles are limited runs, and the McGinnesses go to both international and domestic trade shows to select inventory. About half their shoes cannot be found anywhere else in Chattanooga, Charlie says.
The McGinnesses met in Huntsville, Alabama, while they were both in college, and they both worked for a time at a shoe store owned by Charlie's family. At 38, Charlie already has about 20 years in the shoe business.
"The fashion-conscious consumer wants her shoes to be comfortable, but the merchandise also has to be fashionable," Charlie explains. "We wanted both to be equally important. And this part of Chattanooga is perfect for that."
Courtnay always told people she would never leave her hometown of Huntsville for any other city — with the possible exception of Chattanooga.
"We came (to Chattanooga) for our first anniversary and the connection to the city was spectacular," Courtnay says. "We loved the food, loved the culture, loved the community. I could see myself living here — and it happened."
The McGinnesses got an opportunity to buy a shoe store on Gunbarrel Road in 2009, and in 2010 added the store in North Chattanooga, which has become a hotbed for independent retailers. (The Gunbarrel store closed in 2014.)
Charlie and Courtnay McGinness
* Occupation: Co-owners of Chattanooga Shoe Company at 2 North Shore
* Ages: Charlie, 38; Courtnay, 37
* Birthplace: Charlie (Memphis), Courtnay (Huntsville, Alabama)
* Family: three children
The McGinnesses say that many of their customers are repeat buyers who have become their friends. People appreciate the personalized service the staff provides, they say. Plus, shoe-buying online is not everyone's cup of tea.
"Really, it's a lot simpler to come in. You can try on 50 pairs of shoes," Charlie says. "You don't get to order 50 pairs of shoes online, and then return 49 pairs."
The Chattanooga Shoe Company staff tries to be genuinely helpful by tailoring suggestions to the customer's style preferences and lifestyle. he says.
"We get to know you. What are your interests? Are you going to a party this weekend? Are you traveling to Europe? What's your wardrobe like?"
As for replicating the Chattanooga Shoe Company formula with another store? Who knows, the owners say.
"We are always looking for opportunity," Charlie says. " From a bricks-and-mortar perspective, there is still room to grow."
The view from the top of the market is breathtaking, as million-dollar home sales rise in the Chattanooga area