The shoes are the mirror to the soul

Oak Harbor welcomes All Things New Shoe Boutique

To Amanda Refuge — owner of Oak Harbor’s latest and most Instagrammable small business, All Things New Shoe Boutique — shoes are more than just fashion.

“There’s so many things that you can learn from someone just by looking at their shoes,” Refuge said.

She believes they can reveal a person’s mood, what they’re up to or their personality.

“Our shoes are part of our story,” she said, her words echoed by the charms on her shoes — a Black woman in a graduation cap and “God is my strength.” A simple glance at her lime Crocs had already revealed two main elements in Refuge’s story: ambition and hope.

On June 17, three years after the idea of starting her own business came to mind, she finally cut the ribbon, welcoming customers to her boutique at 31600 Highway 20 — next to AT&T — where they can find heels, boots, sneakers, training shoes or sandals.

In a way, just like her shoes, All Things New’s interiors reflect Refuge’s story and taste. “She believed she could, so she did,” are the words printed on one of the framed mirrors. Inside, the former hair salon appears to be frozen in springtime with its DIY decor: pink blossoms cascading from the ceiling, pink butterflies resting on a framed ivy wall, and giant pink roses made of paper. Even the light switch plates catch the eye with their fuchsia glitters.

Refuge, who initially moved from Nevada to serve at Whidbey’s Navy base in 2002, said she inherited her passion for shoes — and her name, Amanda — from her late grandmother.

“My grandmother had so many pairs of shoes,” she said. “I loved how every morning, when she would go to work, she would have on a different pair that would match what she was wearing.”

Refuge’s grandmother grew up on a farm in the south under the Jim Crow laws, and for a long time could not afford to buy shoes. As she became more financially stable, she began to collect them, and Refuge remembers fondly the times they would go shoe shopping together.

Today, she is the first person in her family to ever own a business.

“We’re kind of trailblazing with our family,” she said, describing the experience of venturing into entrepreneurship without prior experience as a leap of faith.

“It’s about building legacy — showing my kids that ‘If mom and dad can do it, we can do it,’” she said. “If you have a burning desire to do something, do it. Life is too short to be afraid. And the worst thing about failing is not trying at all.””

She is thankful to her husband, Thomas, who helps run the shop while she works full time as a case manager in Skagit County.

“He’s been the painter, the carpenter, the accountant — everything that I need. The other thing he hasn’t done was model a pair of shoes for me,” she joked.

Refuge also said she is grateful to the community and Oak Harbor’s Chamber of Commerce for their support.

“It’s been great,” she said. “ It’s like, ‘There’s enough room for all of us, so I’m going to help you as well.’”

Refuge strongly believes in supporting local small businesses like hers, which she said are “the backbone of the community.”

“It’s nice to know that if I walk into a store, it’s my neighbor’s store. It’s not owned by someone that we will never be able to meet,” she said. “If we shop at our mom and pop’s store, we know it’s going back into the community.”