Sure, I’m the one who asks questions for a living.
But I spend a lot of life here answering one question: How did you get to Asheville?
My answer to this one question, however, comes in twos.
My family introduced me to Asheville as a child because of Tops for Shoes. We drove up from Winston-Salem solely for shoe soles.
My lovely, tiny mother wears a size 2.5, and only wears children’s Birkenstocks (yes, she even wore black patent leather ones to my sister’s wedding).
After years of feet pain and problems, she discovered Birkenstocks during her pregnancies in the 1980s, and hasn’t even picked up another shoe since.
My earliest memories of Asheville are centered by these footwear quests. In the 1990s, we would journey up for the day, stop by Tops and grab lunch at Café on the Square (where Posana Café is today).
We still laugh about the time my mom was so proud of her parallel parking job that she forgot to feed the meter on the downtown street. The parking ticket was not a welcomed award for this accomplishment.
Or there was the time we ate near the window at Café on the Square, and watched a group of people dressed up like fruits and vegetable march through the streets (I still don’t know what they were protesting. Or celebrating.).
Tops for Shoes is a true Asheville tourist spot — and, in my opinion, the city’s only true retail destination. It’s the Biltmore House of boots and heels.
Dean Peterson hears a similar story from his customers constantly. Tops for Shoes serves the region and beyond, he said, noting that people regularly travel from the Piedmont, as well as Atlanta, the Tri Cities and Charlotte.
“We have regulars from Puerto Rico,” Peterson said, noting they make detours to Asheville as they travel across the country on vacation.
“They always stop in Asheville to buy a stack of shoes,” he said.
The shop’s impact isn’t just the tourist dollar — or the fact that it helped import tourists like me and turn me into a resident.
Tops for Shoes has shaped downtown Asheville. It was an early business investment that was responsible for bringing life back into this ghost town. Alex Carr, a member of the shop’s owner-family, noted that today, the store “feeds” off the city’s vibrancy.
Peterson was also quick to point out that the Carr family provided that jump-starting nourishment — and not just because they opened a store.
Bob Carr’s legacy also includes a history of civic engagement, from being on merchant boards and working with Mission Hospitals, as well as being an early leader of the now defunct Bele Chere festival.
Downtown Asheville is bustling these days, with mostly independent stores like the pioneering Tops for Shoes.
The Carr family is also helping other small business owners in its landlord capacity. There is actually a sort of entrepreneur hive at Tops’ corner of College Street and Lexington Avenue. The building features law offices, Blue Ridge Magazine, as well as Adorn Salon and The Edge art gallery.
Asheville continues to change around Tops, and it’s refreshing how the business principles of service and selection are still relevant.
I hope the business’s emphasis on taking care of its customers and employee alike is anything but a trend, and the store’s success will encourage others to do the same.
I want to be part of an economy built of quality compassion. That is where I want to live.