Organic movement goes to the dogs
Local, healthy pet stores spread in Silver Spring, Takoma Park
Organic herring, wild salmon, pork and applesauce, dried apple and sweet potatoes.
No, this is not a grocery list for Whole Foods. These are pet store items.
It seems the organic movement has gone to the dogs. Club Wags, which opened in December, is the latest local pet store with a focus on healthy and organic products to pop up in the Takoma Park and Silver Spring area.
There are now three local pet stores within miles of each other advocating healthier lives for pets. Aside from Club Wags, there is Living Ruff in the downtown Silver Spring area and The Big Bad Woof in Takoma.
Whether people are seeking local business options or pets have developed a taste for the organic food of their two-legged masters, these local pet stores are thriving despite their proximity to each other.
Club Wags, at 9330 Georgia Ave., sells many varieties of dog and cat food, toys, leashes and other accessories. Their motto focuses on a healthier, happier pet, owner Amit Natanzon said.
Natanzon opened the store the last week of December. Before, Club Wags was simply a dog walking business.
Inside the store, Natanzon sells natural and organic dog foods. There are cans of food called "Granny's Pot Pie," "Puppy Plate," and "Thanksgiving Day Dinner." There are fluorescent green tennis balls in every shape from bones to footballs to bowling pins. There are rows of plastic jars with dog and cat vitamin supplements.
"I don't think it's much different than the Whole Foods thing," Natanzon said. "It's going back to the basics and realizing the most important thing is a dog's life is nutrition."
Natanzon compared shopping for food at large, chain pet stores to buying a Big Mac: cheap but not good for you.
He said their Club Wags' location, which is next to the Beltway entrances and exits on Georgia Avenue, provided a convenient stop for people and set them apart from the other stores. He also emphasized, like many of the other store owners, their consultation services.
Living Ruff calls itself a pet boutique and has been open since August 2008. Jessica Simon, who owns the store with her husband, Ron Simon, said their pet stores focus is on healthy products, but it does not necessarily emphasize organic. Simon, like Natanzon, said they specialize in customer service and knowledgeable employees.
Simon said she thought the reason the local pet stores are able to thrive in such close proximity is the demand for them.
"I wouldn't say we are worried," Simon said. "At the same time, even if we carry similar products, it means there is still a demand in the market for these types of products, and it means the economy can sustain these kinds of businesses."
The Big Bad Woof, on Carroll St. in Takoma Park, goes a step further than their competitors. They also sell healthy food, but all their products have to be environmentally and socially friendly, as well.
Pennye Jones-Napier, co-owner of the store, said they work more with small vendors than the other stores in the area, and they sell products that are both organic and holistic. Their motto is, "Essentials for the Socially Conscious Pet."
"I think that people are starting to find that if they have specific needs with animals in terms of food that Petsmart and Petco aren't going to be able to support that specific product," Jones-Napier said.
Jones-Napier thinks so many niche pet stores exist because people in this area are increasingly more educated about where their food comes from.
"I do I think that we have a very educated consumer base," Jones-Napier said. "I think their education shines through in terms of the choices they make in the market place. It's very conscientious choices."
All three stores donate to animal rescue charities. Living Ruff and Big Bad Woof host dog adoptions. Natanzon said Club Wags has plans to.
Living Ruff and Club Wags offer free home delivery. The Big Bad Woof and Club Wags will order items for customers if they don't have them in stock. Living Ruff offers curbside service to pick up orders.
"I actually get happy when other stores open," Simon said. "That's when you discover other big box stores are not necessarily the competition."