Tanisha Scantling-Williams’ Agape Soles Shoetique in Skyway Plaza offers women’s and children’s shoes, accessories and self-care products. She also offers notary services and fingerprinting for background checks. 

BY KARIN DAVIS-THOMPSON | Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG — Tanisha Scantling-Williams said it started as an outlet to keep her sanity as she struggled in an abusive marriage. She was young, not even 20 years old, and didn’t know what to do.

“Most people think abuse in a marriage is just physical,” Scantling-Williams said. “But there is also financial abuse, too. He wanted me to be a stay-at-home mom, but that was just a part of controlling me.”

After years of physical and financial abuse, Scantling-Williams found herself in her 30s with no work experience and no idea what she wanted to do.

“Then I remembered what I told my kids,” she said. “Find out what you want to do, something that you would do for free, then attach an income to it. I took my own advice, asking God what I should do.”

That got her thinking about one of her passions: shoes. “Shoes would be my way of expressing myself,” Scantling-Williams said. “They were a comfort during that abusive relationship.”

Tanisha Scantling-Williams started her business in phases, first selling shoes out of the trunk of her car, then moving into a shared space, and finally, her own brick-and-mortar in 2021.

She said her love for shoes was, in many ways, generational.

“It started with my grandmother. She was in her 80s wearing heels,” the mother of four said. “When she passed, all I wanted was her heels. My mother loved unique shoes, too.”

After giving it some thought, she knew what she wanted to do — open a shoe store and share her love of shoes with her community.

The entrepreneur started Agape Soles Shoetique in 2015. The store primarily stocks shoes for women and children, specializing in large sizes going up to size 13. She started her business in phases, first selling shoes out of the trunk of her car, then moving into a shared space, and finally, her own brick-and-mortar in 2021.

If you’re more of an armchair shopper, you can order online at AgapeSolesShoetique.com, with free shipping when buying $75 or more.

Along with her store, she’s also found her niche as a shoe consultant.

“I sometimes do weddings,” she said. “The bride may be looking for a specific kind of shoe that she can’t find or doesn’t know what shoes to select. I help with that.”

She has repeat customers who count on her when they can’t find a shoe they’ve seen on television or online.

“I find the shoe for them, or sometimes one that is just as nice, very similar for a lot less,” she stated.

However, she wasn’t always so savvy about finding footwear people would spend money on.

“It took me years and a lot of money to get price points,” she revealed. “I lost a lot of money over buying shoes, being priced out, and so it took me years to get to the point where I can get a heel for nine bucks or 12 bucks.”

Scantling-Williams’ tagline is high-end looks with affordability (bougie on a budget).

“If you pay $27 for an event you’re getting ready to go to – some nice heels or flats – you’re likely to come back for your next event,” she explained, saying that many people buy for events and vacations, so they aren’t willing to pay high price points.

Scantling-Williams said she has two customers: one who wants the $20 shoe and the other who doesn’t care how much they cost, so she strives to accommodate both. And in 2024, she aims to start designing a shoe line that will not leave out customers with flat or wide feet.

“I want to create shoes. I want to get an artist; I already know where the production factory would be. Get my designs and manufacture them,” she shared.

But until her shoe line comes out, she has a wealth of shoe hacks. Scantling-Williams shared a few tricks of the trade, such as tying your toes together with clear tape when wearing open-toed sandals so your toes stay together and no one will be the wiser (she hates spillage).

Agape Soles Shoetique stocks heels, flats, wedges, boots and children’s shoes, as seen above.

Located at 6025 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. St. S, in Skyway Plaza, Scantling-Williams also carries accessories and self-care products. She often surveys her inventory for shoes she can donate to the Community Action Stops Abuse (CASA), a cause that has become important to her as a survivor of domestic violence.

Scantling-Williams said even though she has since remarried with a family full of love and support; she remembers the struggle of starting over after abuse.

“I know a lot of women leave with nothing, just like I did,” she said.

But even though her business feeds her soul and gives her the chance to give back, she admits it hasn’t always been easy.

“Construction on my new space was during the heart of the pandemic, and they had to stop construction,” stated the 44-year-old. “To have been able to sustain, I know I am blessed. No one was buying shoes during the pandemic. They weren’t going anywhere.”

Scantling-Williams said her experience is an excellent example of why it is so important to stay focused and persevere no matter what when dreaming of starting a business.

“First, do your research,” she said. “You will have setbacks. You will not succeed if you don’t fail.”

Business owners in the Skyway Plaza have a tough hill to climb without an anchor generating foot traffic. Also, the plaza is not in the South St. Petersburg Community Redevelopment Area (CRA)which means the city does not provide programs and resources to support businesses and developers, housing and neighborhoods and people and jobs.

Help from the city is not an option for the remaining businesses trying to make a go of it.

“My objective is to start not only highlighting my business but the other businesses in the plaza,” explained Scantling-Williams. “We’ve had three to four Black businesses that were open at the beginning of the year, and they closed because they were not able to survive,” noting that at one time, the plaza had close to 90 percent Black-owned businesses in it.

Scantling-Williams remembers a barbershop, hair salon, nail salon, laundromat and other businesses that have come and gone in a short period of time. Now that Amscot has left the plaza, the only significant foot traffic comes from Dollar Tree.

There has been a lot of press around the food desert caused by Walmart’s exit from Tangerine Plaza in 2017, but not much fuss about the desert further south created in 2013 when Sweetbay left Skyway Plaza. In the last 10 years, Walgreens, a dry cleaner, a Greek restaurant that opened in 1980, Pinellas County Tax Collector’s office, St. Petersburg Police Department resource center and a cadre of small Black-owned shops have left.

Scantling-Williams offers notary services and fingerprinting for background checks to drive more traffic to her storefront. And being the only service on the south side, she gets people from all walks of life needing her services, such as teachers, nurses, and doctors.

Agape Soles Shoetique can comfortably fit about 45 styles, with inventory rotating in and out. Her loyal customers know to drop by every few weeks to take a gander at the new merchandise. If you’re more of an armchair shopper, you can order online at AgapeSolesShoetique.com, with free shipping when buying $75 or more.

However, those shopping at home will miss the experience of smelling her custom candles, which are also lotion. She is the Florida distributor of these unique custom candles from a manufacturer in Atlanta.

When entering the store, her clients already know a candle will be lit, so they scoop themselves up some and rub it on their hands and feet, and the shopping begins. The candles are so popular she offers them for sale with just about any scent you can dream of. Clients are already ordering customed scents for affordable Christmas gifts.

Scantling-Williams also consigns high-end products, so if you see Chanel or Gucci, don’t automatically think they are knock-offs. She also offers mirror images, replicas, and high-end factor imperfections, which are her most bougie on a budget offerings.

“The shoes that I bring in from the factories come from where they make the [designer] shoes, but there is an imperfection in the shoes. So, I don’t ever know what I’m going to get. I don’t know what brand I’m going to get.”

Agape Soles Shoetique is open Tuesday through Saturday. For shoe emergencies, you can make an appointment by calling 727-379-1318 on the store’s off days.

To find out more about Agape Soles Shoetique, visit AgapeSolesShoetique.com.

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