Flight attendant gets lift from opening his own pet boutique in historic downtown Oak Harbor

After 26 years as a flight attendant for American Airlines

Chris Reissner’s career in the airline industry is going to the dogs.

The cats, too.

After 26 years of traveling the world and living all over the country as a flight attendant for American Airlines, Reissner is hitting the brakes and settling into life as a small business owner in historic downtown Oak Harbor.

In May, he opened the pet boutique, A Paw in Hand, on Pioneer Way.

Gradually, he’s starting to build a customer base of pet lovers who come to his place searching for unique items for dogs and cats and for the pet owners themselves.

“It’s going good,” Reissner said. “What really helped was the music festival. Oh my God. It gave me a lot of exposure. It was really good. A lot of people were down here, a lot of locals. Comments were, ‘We didn’t know you were back here. We didn’t know you had opened.’”

Reissner said he learned that Oak Harbor, and Whidbey Island, is all about people who have a soft spot for dogs and cats.

But catering to such clientele wasn’t his first choice.

Reissner’s dream for decades was to open his own coffee shop. When he arrived in Oak Harbor just over five years ago from Murfreesboro, Tenn., however, the coffee shop plan dissolved.

“You realized there was one on every corner,” Reissner said. “Even those drive-through ones, which are unheard of anywhere else. I was like, ‘Let’s maybe rethink this a bit.’”

Reissner got tips from friends Ron and Laura Apgar, owners of the Paint Your World store in downtown Oak Harbor, on how to research a business. A pet lover himself and owner of two dogs and three cats, Reissner began envisioning a business that would cater to dog and cat owners.

He wanted to find good examples.

“I went over to Leavenworth and saw a pet boutique that I liked,” Reissner said. “I saw one in La Conner.”

Reissner’s focus was now getting clearer. Meanwhile, his interest as a worldly flight attendant was fading.

Reissner’s last month as a flight attendant is this month, but he will continue to work as a mentor to help train new flight attendants for six months before retiring.

His mother runs the pet boutique when’s he’s out of town.

“I’ve been working for American Airlines for 26 years now,” Reissner said. “It had gotten to a point where I needed a change in life. I’d flown enough. I’d seen enough. I wanted to do something my passion was about.

“One of my uncles sat me down one time and told me, ‘You’ve just got to find your passion. What is it that really gets you moving.’”

He found it to be the furry critters he cares for daily; his dogs Sadie (a boxer lab mix) and Sampson (Rhodesian Ridgeback) and cats Benjamin, Dakota and Hezekiah.

“I don’t know what it was but all of a sudden I thought, ‘You know, a pet boutique would really be fun,’” Reissner said. “And I did some traveling around. And I was looking at other pet boutiques and I had seen a couple. And I thought, ‘This is it. This could be cool.’ There’s nothing like that here in Oak Harbor, so I thought, ‘Beautiful.’”

At A Paw in Hand, Reissner stocks an assortment of designer hand bags, decorative plates and bowls, jewelry, greeting cards, cake mixes, toys, treats, outfits and many other novelty items. One of his best sellers leaves Reissner shaking his head. It’s a ceramic water bowl that resembles a toilet.

On a trip to Saint Martin, a French colony in the Caribbean, he picked up some stylish purses that sold quickly.

“I’m trying to carry mostly stuff made in U.S., especially here in Oak Harbor,” Reissner said. “I’m trying to carry a Navy line of some of the dog clothes and stuff like that to support the Navy. It’s been difficult to find stuff just made in the U.S.”

Owning his own store is Reissner’s dream.

Almost 47, he’s glad to be settling into the Oak Harbor community, a place he had visited annually for years to visit family.

He said life constantly on the go got old. It’s a life his older brother also has lived. Paul Reissner is a fiddler, mandolin player and singer in country star Trace Adkins’ band.

“To me, he’s just my brother,” Reissner said. “I’ve dealt with enough stars on the airplanes. I don’t get star struck. They’re just regular people.”

Reissner bares a close resemblance to his brother, which caught the attention of Adkins upon meeting him after one concert.

“He kind of looked at me and looked at my brother, because we kind of look alike,” Reissner said. “He says, ‘Huh. You must be brother.’ Then he says, ‘Well, yeah, I’m just a singer in your brother’s band.’”

What’s music to Chris Reissner’s ears are inquisitive questions about dogs and cats and learning what items bring a smile to customers’ faces.

“I’ve always loved pets,” Reissner said. “We’ve always had pets. I grew up with animals.”

“Pets have always been my passion.”