When Alex and Kim Brethauer moved to Denver four years ago, they decided to take one of Kim's hobbies - bird-watching - to the next level.
That's when they purchased Wild-Bird Mart, a store where bird enthusiasts can buy top-notch bird houses, feeders and food, among many other birding essentials.
"I just thought it would be a nice business to get into," Kim said. "I figured you'd have nice customers because most people who feed birds are friendly."
The Brethauers ended up in Lincoln County after making the move from the West Palm Beach, Fla., area following Alex's retirement as vice president of operations of ConocoPhillips.
Alex, who worked for the energy corporation for 37 years, said his family decided to move here after coming to visit the area to see Kim's family and wanting get away from Florida's humidity and to once again enjoy the four seasons.
But they also moved because of the style of life in the Lake Norman community.
"It's kind of the way things used to be - progressive, yet we still have the charm of the '60s and '70s in many ways," he said. "The friendliest and most courteous people that you can meet are all found here."
Kim, who was born and raised in Matthews, said it has been nice to come back to the area.
"There's nothing like home," she said.
The Brethauers decided to buy the Wild-Bird Mart because of their curiosity and love for birds.
Alex said he and his wife were attracted to bird-watching because of the animals' natural beauty.
"We've been interested in backyard birds for years," he said. "That interest started to grow because we found that there's a much greater variety of birds here in the Carolinas."
Kim said she has a lifelong relationship with these animals.
"I've always fed birds as long as I can remember," she said. "My parents did it, so I grew up doing it."
Alex admits that even though at first it was mostly his wife's hobby, bird-watching has grown on him.
"I'm the one who's really getting into it now," he said. "I like feeding the birds and watching the birds - and doing this we've honestly accumulated a lot of knowledge."
All that information has come in handy at their store, where they use it to give their clients advice on everything from what type of bird baths to buy to what food is best for a certain species.
The Brethauers said that sharing stories and interacting with their store's clientele have become their favorite aspects of operating their own business.
"The people here are wonderful unlike in the big-city climate," Alex said. "We love meeting and helping the people that come here to our establishment."
He added that the fact that they live in a small-town setting also helps the business because people are closer to nature than in many other parts of the country.
Alex, who was raised and educated in Holland and Germany, explained that all these factors have allowed the Wild-Bird Mart to prosper even after stores like Wal-Mart and Lowe's moved into town.
"We've found this to be an incredibly rewarding hobby," said Alex.
But he said the fact that his store has been doing well during these hard economic times should be encouraging to other small-business owners.
"If you provide a service that the big-box retailers don't provide - i.e. personal service and quality products - you can still survive in today's business environment," Alex said.
Alex said that the birding industry has become a multimillion-dollar industry in the past decade, adding that the hobby is considered the second-biggest hobby after gardening.
"I think it's because it's so easily done, and it's particularly nice when you have children - you don't have to keep the birds at home or take them to the vet," he said.
Alex and Kim said they have gotten more into bird-watching since acquiring the store.
They now participate in a yearly bird count that takes place across the country in February and have gotten the backyard of their Westport community home certified as a wildlife habitat by the National Wildlife Federation.
The certification means that the Brethauers' backyard is a suitable environment for birds to raise their young because it provides food, water and shelter.
The Wild-Bird Mart provides information on how to get certified and can help those interested to fill out the application.
Kim said they decided to provide a suitable habitat for birds in their yard because they thought it would be a fun way to attract different species to watch outside of their windows.
"It's just a wonderful way to enjoy nature up close," she said.