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Pet Stores Galore! By Gabby Friedenthal

There are still a few things about life that I don’t understand: Does God exist? Are men really from Mars and women from Venus? And most importantly, why are there seven pet stores within a three block radius in Culver City?

I may be a multi-tasking mom, but taking on the meaning of God or why on earth men can’t figure out how to communicate like women might just tip my life’s precarious balance. But a strong sense of civic pride prompts me to figure out the pet store conundrum, if not for myself, then for my fellow Culvercitizens. Beverly Hills is known for its wealth. Malibu is known for those glorious beaches that seem only to belong to the rich and famous. Santa Monica has the Promenade and the Pier. And what does Culver City have – besides all those movie studios and a thriving gastronomic oasis? How does “pet stores” sound for a tag line? Culver City, The City of Pets Stores Galore.

Eager to meet a challenge I could accomplish I got up bright and early this morning and went to Pet Smart. The new manager, John, was kind enough to take the time to chat with me in the doorway to the store that wasn’t quite open for customers. “Have you noticed there’s a plethora of pet stores, like five, in less than a three block radius?” I asked. “Actually,” he said, “there are seven pet stores, if you count the aquariums. And, no, I don’t know exactly why they are all here in Culver City.” Next obvious question: “So how’s business?” Business is, in fact, pretty good. John likes working at Pet Smart, so far, and his co-workers are cool. The store has a vet and a grooming salon on the premises, as well as an area for dog training classes. What more could you want?

Actually, if you ask pet lovers, there is more that they want. Take for example Bam Bam and Friends. I spoke with Fabienne, the owner Bam Bam and Friends. And, no, Fabienne does not know why there are so many pet stores in Culver City. Fabienne has her MA in Clinical Psychology. She was in between jobs, trying to figure out the next step to take, and her husband asked her what she loved. “Children and animals” she said. And thus, Bam Bam and Friends was born. Fabienne’s angle with her store is holistic pet care. Not only does her store offer high end nutrition products and other pet goodies, but homeopathic remedies for your four legged friend in need.

My day as an investigative journalist was not panning out as easily as I anticipated. No real leads in the mystery. My gut told me I had to keep going. I’m glad I did and I’ll tell you why. Evan. Evan is why. Evan, the avid pet lover. Evan, the young man who is putting himself through college by working at PetCo. Evan, who told us that he loves his job and even comes in early sometimes to help socialize the animals. Evan, whose passion is the aquatic department of the store. Ask Evan anything about the fish, and he most certainly will know the answer. The best thing about Evan; he set my ten year old, Adam, straight about pet care. “My Mom let me have pets but I had to take care them all by myself! And I did take care of them, you know why?” Evan asked. “Why?” Adam responded with an eager stance that had “it’s not my Mom talking so I will actually listen!” all over it. Evan continued, “because if I didn’t take care of my pets – my pets would die and it would be ALL MY FAULT.” I couldn’t have paid him to say it better! Thank you Evan!

OK, lots about animals and fish, but no answer. So, off to Global Pet Food, the new pet store on the block, (literally). Global Pet Food opened within the last few weeks and according to Nicole, the store manager, things are going pretty well. Yet again, I found a well in informed, committed pet store employee who loves sharing her knowledge about animal nutrition with her customers. “The best part” she says ”is helping people help their pets. There is so much to know. Pet owners wind up teaching me things all the time.” Does Nicole know why there are seven pet stores here in Culver City? Well, no, but she makes up for it with her know how about nutrition.

Finally, Centinela Pet and Feed. While I didn’t chat with an employee, I talked with a customer who states they really know their pet food here. “I’m a really loyal customer because I appreciate how much the people who work here know about what goes into all the pet food they sell.” Actually, Centinela Pet Food and Feed trains its employees on the make-up off all the brands of Pet Food they carry. Pretty impressive.

With no answer on the horizon, I was getting a little worried. The pet store meanderings hammered on my brain like an incessant knocking on an unanswerable door. Some folks had down right strong emotions about the subject. “I think it’s REALLY stupid , if you ask me, that there are five pet stores.”

“I swear if there is one more pet store that opens I’ll commit hari kari.”

“Ever heard of literature..….like in book store? Why can’t they open a book store for god’s sake!”

And then at least fifteen moms from around town said “I wish they would just open a Michaels or a Joanns so I don’t have to schlep to Santa Monica or….what’s it’….Torrance?”

Some, however, dared to differ and shared their enthusiasm on the store subject.

“You know why I think it’s good we have five pet stores?” asked one the baseball moms hanging out in the stands. ” I’ll tell you why. Because it keeps ‘em honest! That’s why! This way consumers won’t get ripped off by those damn corporate pet stores.”
Another Mom found herself concurring about the pet store plentitude. “I’m happy about the pet stores. My husband is allergic to animals, so my kids and I go to the different stores and enjoy pets that way.”

The sun was setting on a day with no answers. No clues, no consensus, no nothing. So I did what any good reporter would do – I called in a favor from the top. So it cost me my dignity. So what? Bothering a leading Santa Monica economist about a glut of pet stores in Culver City was no laughing matter. But for the psyche of the city I love, I put my ego on hold.

I got a hold of Kevin Klowden, the Managing Economist at the Milken Institute in Santa Monica,(and full disclosure, a resident of CC and a pet owner). Kevin suspects that because the retail areas to the East of Culver City (Ladera Heights, View Park, and Baldwin Hills to name a few) are weak, Culver City’s thriving retail operation winds up servicing these communities as well. “That’s what makes the most economic sense as to why Culver City has so many pet stores.” So we’re not just feeding Culver City pets, we’re feeding a huge slice of L.A. County.)

Being the pooped-out, part time, sleuth that I am, that’s what I’m going with – the Clinton tagline about it being about the economy (but without the “stupid.”)

As far as the pet stores, yes there’s a glut of them. But have you ever heard of a glut of cool pet people? I enjoyed learning about the pet industry (something I hadn’t actually thought about). And I really enjoyed discovering the pet industry people who took the time to talk to me and share a little slice of their passion about the animals, the pets (yes, our little Fluffies or Buffies or Bam Bams) that are such an integral part of our families and our everyday lives.

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2 Responses to “Pet Stores Galore! By Gabby Friedenthal”

  1. Mary McGrath says:

    Maybe it’s like the Culver City dining scene…the more, the merrier! All we need now is a dog park where Jiffy Lube is….

  2. Elizabeth says:

    Hi Gabby,
    Your article caught my eye, because I am just down the street from the new one, Global, and I admit that I was thinking, “Damn, another one? Why can somebody please, please, please,open an independent bookstore?” I think my college Intro to Macroeconomics professor would have the answer for you. Stop me if you remember this—it seems that the best place to open a second pet store, or grocery store or gas station, or what have you, in a given community is not on the other side of town, but actually right next door to the first one. And then the most lucrative place for the third one in that same town is … next door again, or if possible, smack in the middle. The idea is that consumers who buy regularly from the first pet store or gas station or grocery store will see the new place while en route, and decide to try it out, and inevitably, some will defect to the new store.
    I have loved Centinela Feed & Pet Supply since I shopped at the family’s first location on Venice Blvd 15 years ago, and I’m not defecting to Global, even though they are en route to Centinela, and closer to me, too. Miniscule selection of cat products compared to the dog stuff, and when we went in there the other day, the owner tried to turn me away from Centinela by sharing what he thought was a little dirt on them. Very uncharitable, I thought, coming from a guy who gushed, “God Bless You,” at me and my daughter three times during our brief visit. Maybe that’s their sales angle — making shopping for pet supplies a religious experience? It certainly is an untapped niche.

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