The Chilean writer Isabel Allende — the world’s most widely read author of the Spanish language — once said, “We don’t even know how strong we are until we are forced to bring that hidden strength forward. In times of tragedy, of war, of necessity, people do amazing things.”

If anyone knows tragedy, it is Oneida’s Christy Ginn. Sixteen years ago this April, she experienced the kind of tragedy that would have crippled most people, losing both of her young children in a bad relationship gone horribly wrong.

These days, the memories of Ginn’s children live on through the boutique she recently opened in downtown Oneida. From the very name of the business — Tyannah’s Boutique & More — to a photo of the children that is placed prominently inside — “that’s my babies, right there,” Ginn says as she picks up the framed portrait — everything about Ginn’s Main Street store is to honor her children.

And, through it, she says, she’s found peace.

Tyannah’s Boutique is named for Ginn’s children — Tyler and Savannah. In late April 2003, the children — Tyler was seven, Savannah was three — were killed by their father, who then turned his gun on himself. It was the worst possible outcome of ongoing domestic violence. Ginn had left her husband eight times, she said . . . but she always went back. 

Years later, when Ginn began competing in pageants at the state and national levels, she had a platform that was near and dear to her heart: domestic violence. And through those pageants, she found the courage to step out and do something she had always wanted to do: open a retail store.

‘God led me down a different road’

From the ashes of tragedy, Christy Ginn was able to find new life. She remarried — to Jared Ginn — and has two children, 13-year-old Gracie and 10-year-old Noah.

“I got married and had my tubes reversed . . . that doesn’t always work,” she explains, “but I had faith in God that it would. My daughter is named Gracie Faith for a reason. I thought it was God’s grace and my faith that led me down this new road.” 

As Gracie has grown up, she discovered a love for competing in pageants — which, as it turned out, led to her mother’s involvement in pageants. It was during a pageant in Pigeon Forge that Ginn discovered there was a Mrs. division.

“Mom said, ‘You should do that,’” she says. “It started out as a silly game.”

It might have started as a silly game, but Ginn won the title of Mrs. Fall Festival. She then went to a statewide pageant and won fourth place. That led to a call from the director of a Mrs. pageant in Virginia, asking her to participate.

“I thought she was a hoax,” Ginn says. “I thought she was fake, just wanting money. I did my research and decided I didn’t want to do it, but I told her I would pray about it and let her know.”

Ultimately, she decided to do it, winding up in a national pageant, which she won — crowned Mrs. Spectacular America.

Ginn is proud of her accomplishments on the stage.

“I’m 44 years old and I do these pageants,” she says. “I’m the first woman from Scott County to win the Mrs. Tennessee title. I’m pretty proud of myself.”

What better platform?’

When she got to the state-level pageant, Ginn discovered she needed a platform. In addition to modeling swimwear and a cocktail dress, part of the competition involved the contestants introducing themselves to the judges and talking about their platform. Ginn talked it over with her husband, Jared, but she knew what her platform should be.

“I thought, what better platform do I have than the one I live through every day?” she says. “I live through this every day of my life.”

Domestic violence was her platform. And the pageants provided her with an audience — a way to reach out to other women who are in the situation she was once in: an abusive relationship with seemingly no way out.

At the Mrs. Spectacular America pageant in Bristol, Va., Ginn found herself on stage with other finalists. It came down to the last two: Mrs. Tennessee and Mrs. South Carolina. When Mrs. South Carolina was named first runner-up, Ginn realized she had won.

“I cried,” she says. “That might sound silly to some people, but I didn’t cry because I won a crown. I cried because I had to stand up before judges and tell my story, tell my platform. And for the first time in 15 years, I thought my platform was good enough to go somewhere.”

‘A boldness to get in front’

Being on stage at pageants is hard, Ginn realized. She says she realizes now what her daughter, Gracie, and other pageant contestants go through. And by stepping out, she discovered a boldness — a boldness, she says, “to get in front.” She had always wanted to open a store, and she realized that the time had arrived to take the leap of faith.

“My dad (James) passed away in November 2017 and that had an impact on me,” she says. “We don’t always have the time that we think we have. If we don’t step out and do what God wants us to do, we may not get the chance. I told Mom I wanted to be what God wanted me to be. I wanted to open some kind of a store.”

In September 2018, Ginn started searching for a location around Oneida. She had seen the Main Street storefront three years ago, but it was occupied at the time. When she realized it was empty, she talked to the owner — Tony Duncan, of Trophy Masters — and then she prayed about it . . . and then she spent a month tearing down walls, decorating, and preparing for a grand opening.

Tyannah’s Boutique & More opened on November 30 — the one-year anniversary of the day her father was buried; “I felt him in it as well,” she says — and business boomed.

At first glance, Tyannah’s Boutique is a typical boutique, with the clothing and accessories you would expect inside such a store. But, as the name suggests, there’s more. Ginn has begun offering spray tans, and she has a license in photography, with plans to build a studio in the rear of the store for photo sessions. She also wants to include pageant coaching, which will enable her to involve her daughter. Finally, she hobbies in distressed furniture and painted furniture, which she will eventually offer as well.

‘Finally, peace’

Now that she’s a store-owner, Ginn isn’t ready to give up pageants. In fact, she plans to keep going. She’ll hand off her Mrs. Spectacular America crown in July, and has had five other pageant systems contact her since winning that national title.

Opening a business, Ginn says, was “very scared.” She understands the nervousness prospective business-owners feel at stepping out on faith. She points them to the advice her mother gave her: “If you don’t take that leap of faith, you are never going to know if it’s going to work. Everybody had to start from somewhere.”

Inside Tyannah’s Boutique & More, as Ginn talks, Laura Storey’s popular worship song — “Blessings” — comes on. The chorus plays quietly in the background but somehow seems fitting: “What if your blessings come through raindrops? What if your healing comes through tears? What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know you’re near? What if trials of this life are your mercies in disguise?”

“I cut the ribbon on this store and I finally had peace in my heart because I got to honor those babies,” Ginn says. “They didn’t ask for any of this. Even though it’s a horrible story, and tragic, I’m still blessed. I’m not sure everybody can say that but I can.”

This article is the January 2019 installment of Business Spotlight, presented on the third week of each month by the Scott County Chamber of Commerce as part of the Independent Herald's Back Page Features series. A print version of this article can be found on Page B8 of the January 17, 2019 edition of the Independent Herald.