Wal-Pet? Local Retailer’s Reaction to NYCPet Coming to Clark Street

As we all know, NYCPet is stocking their shelves on Clark Street for an August opening. With four other pet stores within a four-block radius, I wondered if owners are nervous about the competition.

When I’m hunting for just the right dog gift, I often find myself at rowf, four-and-a-half blocks away from NYCPets, on Middagh Street. rowf has the airy deliberate quality of a SoHo designer store, with a photo board of their canine customers, a bowl of water near the door and a treat-of-the-day (some kind of dried fish on Sunday, something I couldn’t snap in half for Hermia and Daisy on Tuesday) on the counter. The shelves feature a few bags of kibble but a broad range of leashes and collars. Yuning, the proprietress, expresses little concern for the new store, secure in the specific niche she has created for herself, her caramel spaniel and gray poodle, who bark a welcome at passers-by. As Yuning squatted to pet Daisy, she said, “We specialize in treats and toys,” and the matter was closed.

Pet Emporium’s legendary Sammi, for 18 years the de facto mayor of Montague Street, gave his famous shrug when I asked him about it. “What can you do?” he said resignedly. “Competition is good for everybody. I wish them the best of luck.”

“Are you concerned?” I asked.

“Of course. They’re going to take some of my business away. But some customers will be loyal. I wish them the best of luck.”

“Some” customers will be loyal to Sammi because he’s a good friend and neighbor. If I need to leave keys or a business card for someone, Sammi is happy to play postmaster. Because Bangor is obsessed with one kind of ball, Sammi keeps them in stock. When I’m having a bad dog day, I find myself telling him about it and being absolved. “Sometimes it’s like that,” he shrugs. “What can you do? But you’re a wonderful dog walker. Don’t take it so hard.” Then we try to top each other with jokes involving his products (think fetch; think pizzle sticks) and I’m on my way, feeling better.

Beyond his generosity and presence, Sammi is probably the most beloved human in Brooklyn Heights. Most of the neighborhood dogs know he’s lavish with treats and he’s unflappable when a dog jumps on the counter or knocks over a display of Cod Chews or tennis balls. Daisy, Bangor and Hermia stop at the corner of Hicks and Montague and plant themselves, panting in his direction. Sammi is the only pet store owner they know by name.

When I spout my fondness for Sammi to Tom, the co-owner of Perfect Paws, he agrees whole-heartedly. If Sammi doesn’t toot his own horn, Tom toots his and everyone else’s. “When I was broke, Sammi would float me a bag of kibble and tell me to pay him next week. And he never hounded me about it,” he recalls of years gone by. Perfect Paws has been a decorative feature on Hicks Street for four years and, before that, for 13 years on Atlantic Avenue.

“NYCPets isn’t going to affect me or Serena (the owner of The Tailored Pet, on Pineapple Walk). We rely on grooming and boarding as much as retail. The rumor is, though, that they haven’t been very cool about cooperating with BARC in Williamsburg.” BARC [Brooklyn Animal Resource Coalition] is a not-for-profit, no-kill shelter on Wythe Avenue, where somewhat higher kibble prices generate revenue to support the maintenance of the kennel facility. BARC has also been the recipient of the profits from the Brooklyn Heights dog Halloween Parade, an annual fundraising event that originated with Perfects Paws’s desire to help animals displaced by Hurricane Kathrina. The parade is supported by Friends of Hillside Park, Pet Emporium and other vendors. Perfect Paws is a community resource for local fundraising.

“We donate to the neighborhood schools and synagogues, and we don’t take administrative fees out for our work on the Parade. We have a deal with BARC: adopt a dog, we’ll give it its first grooming for free and Sammi kicks in the first bag of kibble for free. It’s important that you give back to the community that’s paying you,” Tom says as a bulldog pushes to the gate at the counter and starts baying at something above its nose.

“Aw, Agnes,” Tom sighs. “Are you seeing ghosts again?” Daisy takes Agnes’s vocalization as a challenge and starts to bark as well. “Shut up, Agnes, or I’ll hit you with my rubber slipper,” he threatens, waving his flip-flop around. He turns back and says, “I did that once and she snatched it and ran away. Daisy, you are going to have the runs all week,” he adds as my dog settles in to eat her third rawhide curly.

Tom is the person many of us go to before the veterinarian. Having worked for many years as a vet tech, he’s calmed us down when we’re distraught, taught us to treat our dogs’ wounds, and given out training advice.

Serena, the owner of The Tailored Pet, thinks the incursion of a franchise pet store is “silly”. After admiring Bangor as the prettiest chocolate Lab she’s seen, she leaned over the counter and told me how she heard of the new store. “I call them the `crepe hangers’ – the customers who come in and say, `Did you hear…’ There’s always going to be gossip, always going to be factions, but I’ve been here for 35 years,” she says. “I got nervous when Sammi opened up his store. I don’t get nervous any more.”

I remark that it looks like Pet Emporium is going to be the most affected and she nods sadly. “The location is smart, right off the train, and Gristides is closed. It’s on the way home for a lot of people.”

The location is also expensive. The rents I heard were around $12,500 a month, which is a lot of Wellness and Greenies to sell.

Word is making the rounds that the personnel aren’t very friendly. One Labrador-owning friend told me of friend’s encounter. “He stopped in to say hello and the guy said, `We’re not open,’ and shut the door on him.”

Lately, Brooklyn Heights Blog has been full of woe at the mortality rate of mom-and-pop businesses and the drain on the character and variety of the neighborhood that goes along with it. It’s as much our fault as it is bad business and high rents, and it’s got me thinking about how the pet stores are a reliable part of the fabric of my days. At least once a month, I carry Hermia’s prong collar to Sammi when it’s been turned into one of those Chinese finger-lock puzzles and how he let me take a couple of pizzle sticks when I had two Labs to entertain while I administered an I.V. to a cat. Daisy goes batshit for joy when she sees Sammi’s son out on a delivery or hears Sammi’s voice on the street.

Allen, a terrified former shelter dog on my roster, allows exactly four people in the world to pick him up – his humans, me, and Tom. Daisy and Bangor find Tom as hugely funny as I do. Bangor hates cats but calls a truce in Perfect Paws and The Tailored Pet. I found the perfect going-away present for Mully when she moved to New Jersey among the New York-centric toys at rowf.

I know who will be behind the counter when I walk into Pet Emporium or rowf – and so do my dogs. We know she or he will know our names. I got sucked into helping with the parade while talking to Tom about NYCPets and referred his co-owner, Aaron, to Overtures for advice on getting paint that won’t fade in window dressings. The business of pets – and especially of dogs, the most public of pets – is very small, very internecine – and extremely passionate. NYC Pets has big footprints to filll and some people might stop for kibble on their way home from work, but I wonder where they’ll go when Bowser eats too many rawhide curlies or the Big Red Puppy is so hyper that his humans can’t read the morning paper. I want to know the salesperson is going to come out from behind the register not to promote the genius of a Cuz, but to rough up my dog just the way she likes. I want to be looked in the eye and, even more, I want Daisy to be looked in the eye and I want her to smile at the jolt of contact.

I already know where I can find I.D. and Kongs: they’re just the excuses.

NYCPets is two half-blocks away from my apartment. Sure, I can whip in to buy a bag of kibble, but I’m a lot more mindful that in doing so, I’ll be selling out the neighborhood.

Share this Story:

, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

  • bornhere

    I so support Sammi; and, for those of you who remember then, doesn’t his shop sort of strike you as the pet equivalent of Silver’s?

  • my2cents

    I went to the NYCPet website. They are a chain of 4 stores, all of them in Brooklyn. They’ve been around 26 years. How can you even try to compare them to “Walmart”? They are a small locally owned chain, and with only 4 locations I don’t think they are a franchise. Frankly, as a non pet owner I think we already have too many such stores and too many over-pampered dogs living in city apartments. But let’s not get our anti-corporate claws out when it is totally unjustified. As chains in the heights go, there are bigger fish to fry!

  • ABC

    I’m loyal to Sammi too — and now, happy to know how to spell his name!

    I like Perfect Paws too. And I love roaming and sometimes buying something cute and too expensive at rowf — altho I don’t know how they stay in business. They are all super nice.

    Isn’t it ironic that the owner/operator of one of the our area’s more successful mom and pop shop — what everyone here says we need more of — was recently kinda slammed here? Ah, blogs!

  • nabeguy

    Yeah, Bornhere, I remember narrow aisles crammed with you-name-it and the threat of bodily harm if one of the shelves collapsed on you.

  • Publius

    We’re fortunate to have such great mom & pop local businesses. I frequent Perfect Paws and Rowf.

    I stopped into NYCPets the other day while they were stocking the shelves and the woman I spoke with was very nice, and opened a package of treats to give some to my pooch.

    I do think it will be difficult to pay an $11k monthly nut and still hope to make a profit after all overhead, considering there are already quite a few established and loved purveyor in the immediate area. But I wish them well.

  • nabeguy

    Could Sammi be any more gracious? That’s what keeps people coing back to him.

  • Cranky

    Another Sammi fan here. Gracious, unflappable and funny. He won’t lose me as a customer.

  • AB

    I live just a (sloppy, wet, dog’s) kiss away from Rowf, and am always amazed that this small but friendly shop can make a go of things, considering there’s another such just a block or two south, on Hicks.

    Sure wold like it if Rowf carried cat food–or for that matter, the other nearby shop did.

    Not to is species discrimination!

  • here since 89

    whenever I go in there, the owner is on the cell phone conducting his real business (?) and does not give me the time of day.
    I think his merchandise is over-priced and that the whole shop is possibly a front operation for something else. sorry, that’s how it strikes me. i know people seem to like him, but i don’t see why, the man is always on the cell phone, true or false?

  • JJD

    Didn’t Frances lecture us about rumors when we had the vespa dog walker discussion where several postings were deleted?

    “Word is making the rounds that the personnel aren’t very friendly. One Labrador-owning friend told me of friend’s encounter. “He stopped in to say hello and the guy said, `We’re not open,’ and shut the door on him.””

  • scout

    I agree with 2cents. How can you call NYCPet a Wal-Pet? They’re homegrown, we should be proud of their success. Additionally, I have found them to be the most well-stocked, friendly, helpful pet store in the boro. I was thrilled when I saw that they were moving in there. All the pet stores in this side of the nabe are so dog centric (not counting Sammi, but he’s a little more of a walk). It’s time to show the Heights cats some love. Me-ow.

  • Bob

    Can there be a more unattractive storefront than NYCPet? There’s got to be some ordinance or landmark guideline to make them use the window for something other than the backs of shelving units.


  • No One Of Consequence

    They could do what Gristedes did along Pineapple Walk. Paint them over.

  • E G

    I buy my bird food from Pet Emporium – I have because his store has always had parrot food in stock, while the others do not. I suppose I will continue to buy there because I am coming from the other side of the heights so I do not routinely pass the area of the new location. I am not sure it is out of loyalty, and if it is, it is loyalty to geography and routine.

  • 11201

    Sam is definitely the best – one of the most generous people I know. It’s also amazing at how much he cares about his customers and knows them – I tell him about something that happened at work a while back and he remembers and asks me if things have changed – when people call him to put in orders, he knows who they are just by hearing their voice and remembers who their pet is and what they like or don’t like – he’s like an old best friend – irreplaceable…

  • lincoln

    sammi is truly the mayor of montague. there is not a warmer and more friendly presence in the neighborhood. we should all boycott the new chain on in the north heights.

    fyi. i think sammi has a graduate degree in engineering…

  • goober

    what a great store sammi runs.

    you need to walk more scout.

    laziness closes stores.

  • since47

    I live at the very north end of the Heights and if I run out of cat food or feel the felines need something other than shredded mouse toys to play with, I will always trek up to visit Sammi, a good friend to animals and humans alike. And to ‘here since 89,’ yes, he’s on the phone a lot, but then so is my husband – and there’s nothing nefarious there. I think we need to get away from the guilty until proven innocent portion of our program…

  • nabeguy

    Anybody know if Sammi sells fish food? My daughter won a goldfish at Coney Island today (damn that nanny of hers!) and I’ve got to try and keep it alive at lesast through the weekend.

  • duffy

    Yes, Sammi sells fish food. Hope the goldfish made it.

  • Yeah

    Good luck to the new store. It is about time something new has arrived. Yes Perfect Paws does do fundraising for pets with a agenda. It is not from the heart or else he would not be mentioning it every time he gets interviewed. The same way alot of his customers do not go to him for grooming any more alot will not go there for merchandise. I will go to a tailored pet and the new store for my things. NYC pets will do well. What a lot of people do not realized is that loyal customers has moved and new people are moving into the neighborhood. Competition, Competition, Competition. Wait untill a grooming shop opens close to Perfect Paws, now that will be news.

  • Publius

    It looks like Yeah has an axe to grind against Perfect Paws.

    I’m a big fan of PP, and think they are a wonderful addtion to the nabe. Yes, the owner can be a little bit bitchy from time to time, but deep down he’s a sweetheart, and he does do the fundraising because he loves animals. To say otherwise is just not the case. I’ve seen his commitment to researching and funding thousands of dollars to worthwhile animal nonprofits, and he’ll just send the check without asking for anything in return.

    I also welcome the new store, but believe that Perfect Paws has such a good vibe and friendly service provided by real New Yorkers that they’ll do well in any competitive climate.

  • Yeah

    Publius, you are talking from a personal point of view because you are either the owner or one of his friends. You have seen the commitment and some have seen the hypocrisy. He better love animals he can not do anything else. Fact. The new store will take away from his profit.

  • Sensei Brian

    Serena Bellini of the Tailored Pet passed away on Friday.

    I just found out this afternoon, so I could see where news might otherwise travel slowly.

    I was told that a memorial service had already been held and that donations can be made to your favorite animal charity. If you don’t have one, you can contact the shop and they can make recommendations.

    I only knew Serena for the last couple of years since I opened the Dojo, but I appreciated her attitude and outlook on life. She told me she used to get all fired-up over everything, but that over the years she had learned to take life as it was and that all that worrying was pointless.