Heart and sole
By Tracy Abiaka

Cindy helps friend Sue Kelly, a real estate agent in Paris, select candles. They have known each other for about 20 years.

"Without your customers, you're nothing," says Cindy Hedges, owner of Bourbon Boot Supply. This customer-focused philosophy has made her a pivotal figure in Paris.

Cindy opened the store 15 years ago after the only shoe shop in town closed. It quickly thrived, starting with boots and expanding to clothing, accessories and licensed Secretariat merchandise. In 2018, Cindy moved to the current location downtown, doubling her space.

Starting without a business degree or retail experience, Cindy’s learning curve was steep. Other businesswomen in town helped her. At the heart of her success are her friends and customers. She makes it a priority to build relationships with her customers and pays it forward by helping to elevate other Bourbon County businesses.

One artisan benefiting from Cindy’s support is Megan Conway of Cynthiana, whose sterling and rose-gold bracelets and rings are featured in the shop. Cindy has also given Megan marketing tips. With Cindy’s help, Megan says, she’s placed her jewelry in six other Bourbon County shops.

In addition to showcasing local artisans, Cindy’s store has become a place where people can gather. Friends and customers often stop by to chat. The former assistant teacher draws parallels between her work with students and her interactions with customers. “I never knew what was happening in a student’s life at the moment,” Cindy says. “Sometimes they might just need a hug."

"Cindy makes it plain fun to come in," says Paris resident Shirley Cox. She's been shopping at Bourbon Boot Supply for 14 years. "Cindy makes everyone feel so welcome like they're her best friends," she says.

Besides Terri Thomas, who does embroidery at her shop, Cindy is a one-woman show. She works with purchasing, merchandising and marketing five days a week, from the store's opening to a couple of hours after closing. She admits that though she loves what she does and wants to continue until she's unable, it can be exhausting.

"Working for myself is the most rewarding job I've ever had," she says. "At the same time, it's the hardest.”

What keeps her going is her love for her work, including its flexibility. She sees friends at her shop, and her family and grandchildren sometimes come in for lunch. She’s also learned not to feel pressured to get everything done.

“Customers aren’t going to stop buying because there are some unopened boxes of merchandise on the floor,” she says. “Nothing has to be perfect.”

Instead, she focuses on those who walk into Bourbon Boot Supply. “You can't have a good product but bad customer service,” she says. “You have to take care of people.”

The store at 623 Main St. is Cindy’s third location. After expanding to different merchandise, she works with local artisans to stock and market their work.

Megan Conway and Steven Johnson are two artisans who sell their products at Bourbon Boot Supply. Megan, who considers Cindy a mentor, displays her bracelets and rings. Steven's bronze sculptures and jewelry are also available in the shop on consignment.

After the only shoe shop in Paris closed, Cindy’s husband, Mitch Hedges, encouraged her to open a boot shop to fill the void. Bourbon Boot Supply has now grown to offering boots from 10 different companies.

In addition to interacting with customers who come into her store, Cindy frequently takes orders over the phone.

Cindy chats with her friend, Minie Davis, at Minie’s home in Millersburg. The two formed a close friendship after meeting more than two years ago. When she’s in the area, Minie stops by Bourbon Boot Supply to visit Cindy.

Cindy prepares a jean jacket for display. When she decided to offer clothing, she started to expand her space. She now carries five clothing brands in the store.

Cindy catches up with friend and Main Street business owner Kimberly Howard. The two have known each other for more than 20 years, and their children went to school together.

Cindy joins her family for a meal at the Rock Café. Cindy says being with her family, especially her four grandchilden, helps her de-stress from work.