Christine Ellis and her sister, Shella Michel, realize they may not be unique on this front. They love shoes.
“My sister once had 300 pairs,” Ellis said.
But it wasn’t simply a fascination with fashionable footwear that led the duo to jumpstart their new business venture — Step-In Women’s Designer Shoes, set to open Thursday in Mesa.
Helping other women not unlike themselves find a bargain on shoes — to the tune of a third or half off a designer shoe’s retail price — was part of it.
But helping a good cause was the real root, Ellis says.
Ellis and her sister initially were looking for free or low-cost shoes to give to the homeless men and women they feed each Sunday morning in downtown Phoenix. They turned to former professional basketball player David Jones for help because he used to own and run Ginnie’s Shoes in Tempe.
“When he showed us what the markup was, Shella asked ‘Why don’t we open a shoe store?’” Ellis said. “This store will help us to be able to give more, help more people and touch lives.”
Most shoes at Step-In will be priced between $9.99 and $19.99, Ellis said, adding that 40 percent of the store’s profits will go to charities.
In addition to feeding up to 500 people each week, the sisters, natives of Haiti, began the Haitian Disaster Relief Center in Mesa after the devastating 2010 earthquake struck the Caribbean island nation. Among other aid provided, the Center established an orphanage that cares for more than 40 children.
“When a woman purchases a pair of shoes from us, she will literally be feeding someone from Haiti or someone homeless,” Michel said.
East Valley real estate investor Michael Pollack helped the sisters get the Haitian relief center open back in 2010 by donating retail space, and he’s helping Ellis and Michel again this time around, providing four months of retail space at no cost. Step-In is located at 2665 E. Broadway Road, Suite B108, near the southwest corner of Broadway and Lindsay roads.
“We did it because they are giving back to the community in such a big way,” Pollack said. “Giving away 40 percent of your profits is significant—most businesses who give to charitable causes only give 1 to 5 percent.”
Rondi Hartung walked by the Step-In storefront recently and peeked in the door as displays were being arranged.
“The concept sounds great,” said the woman who calls herself a frequent visitor to the strip center. “I like designer shoes.”
Ellis and Michel are confident many women will want “to look good and do good.” Their business plan calls for six more shoe stores around the Phoenix area.