Long before she ever imagined owning a shoe store, Anita Opitz painted a shoe.
Having returned to college after an earlier career as an office administrator, she allowed herself to take one art class. The assignment was to paint an object; Opitz chose her favorite shoe, a Rieker boot, and she garnished it with a lavishly blossoming flower.
Opitz liked the results enough that when she became a licensed realtor soon thereafter, she replicated the image of the boot and the flower on her business card. “Whenever I handed someone my card, I found I enjoyed talking about the image more than about real estate,” she said.
Originally from Germany, Opitz came to the Boston area nearly 20 years ago for her then-husband’s job. For a time she worked in the corporate sector while also raising two children, but after the heart-wrenching death of her 10-year-old daughter following a long illness, she followed the urge to find pursuits that felt more meaningful.
“I wanted to help people, by finding them homes,” she said of the decision to become a realtor. But the field seemed crowded and difficult to break into. Still, she tried to network and make contacts, and her efforts included leaving some business cards at her favorite shoe store — Michael’s Shoe in Acton.
One day last winter she stopped by the store only to learn that the longtime owners were retiring and closing their doors after 34 years in business.
“People were in tears,” she said. “And suddenly it occurred to me that maybe this, more than as a realtor, was how I could help people. . . . Keeping a much-loved local retail business open fit my philosophy about the importance of community and sustaining small businesses.”
Opitz officially took ownership of the store in February 2020, and with the help of some loyal vendors and the shop’s previous employees, she began building an inventory and imagining ways that she could use the space to support local artists and musicians, perhaps with occasional live events.
Along with her newly hired store manager, Heidi Ziegahn, Opitz busily prepared for a late March grand opening, only to see their plans come to a screeching halt when the pandemic caused a mandatory shutdown of retail storefronts.
“We were forced to close before we even opened,” Opitz said.
The two women used the weeks that followed to build their vendor contacts and set up a computerized inventory system. In June, the renamed Michael’s Shoe Boutique opened its doors at last, and previous customers as well as curious new ones began to trickle in.
“People were slow to return to shopping, but starting out with a smaller number of customers made it manageable for us to get very organized,” Opitz said. “Now, of course, we are eager to have more visitors.”
Opitz is hoping the temporary shutdown also reinforced for consumers the value of small businesses.
“After so many people turned to online ordering because they didn’t have a choice, I’m hoping some of them realize anew the value of visiting a store and making a personal connection,” she said.
Opitz now lives in Carlisle with her teenage son, and she draws upon a network of fellow community members to help her make choices for the store. Recently she put out an informal poll for Carlisle parents, asking which brands of children’s shoes they would most like to see in the store, which has not carried children’s items for the past several years.
With a slogan of “Shoes for happy feet,” Michael’s Shoe Boutique is intended to match customers’ unique footwear needs with the right shoe.
“It’s something I truly believe in,” Opitz said. “Wearing a good shoe affects your whole body.”
It was less than a year ago that Opitz was a realtor dropping off her business card at Michael’s Shoe. Now, she said, “for the first time in my life, I have a job that doesn’t feel like work. Because it’s something I love.”
And that image she painted of the shoe with flowers back in a college art class? It forms the new logo for Michael’s Shoe Boutique. “And the store’s colors are purple, pink, and yellow, because those were my daughter’s favorite colors,” she said. “Everything has a meaning.”
Nancy Shohet West can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.