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Fairwood pet store celebrates 30 in tough economy
In the puppy pen of the organized and well-stocked Fairwood pet store, a small Yorkshire Terrier crawls up into a girl's lap, tail wagging.
"You get to play with the puppies for free," said 15-year-old Stormi Richter, snuggling the pup. She's a regular at the Fairwood Pet Center.
The store celebrates 30 years of business this weekend. It's been guided under the thoughtful leadership of Annika Daley, a single mother who cares as much for the community as she does the business.
Organizing community activities, she hosts a regular dog fashion show and Halloween pet parade at the Fairwood Shopping Center.
Her Sept. 11 anniversary celebration is worth consideration. Someone will win a year's worth of dog food.
However, getting to this celebration didn't come without struggle.
"I have seen a lot of businesses go under all around me," Daley said. "I feel like God's grace as been on this business."
In her back office, she discussed the recent closure of a 7-11 gas station and empty storefronts at the Fairwood Shopping Center.
Small businesses are struggling to stay open in the ailing economy.
Her approach to the recession has been flexibility.
She's downsized her staff, refocused her advertising to the web and social media.
"In this economic time, it's a new day and a new chapter," she said. "What used to work may not work today."
Sensitivity to customer needs has contributed to her success in the long term, she said.
When the shop opened in 1980, she didn't sell puppies, but the customers began to ask for them.
She jumped into the market, and now small-breed dogs are a signature of her store, attracting customers from as far as Alaska.
"The store quickly became my customer's store," she said. "Everyone had a part in building this store."
On a Friday afternoon a man came in asking about puppies. Daley asked several questions, before putting a dog in his lap.
She's not afraid to steer customers away from breeds that are bad fits.
A fragile chihuahua, for example, wouldn't do well in a home with five children, she said.
It's about creating happy pet experiences for families.
"The greatest passion for me and this store is getting involved with my customers," Daley said.
If she's asked a question she can't answer, she'll try to glean the information from another customer, intentionally making a connection with a customer.
In some cases she takes the relationship a step further.
She's invited ill and downcast people into her office for a chat and even prayer, she said. "It's not just a pet store."
Before opening in 1980, she used to visit pet stores for fun with her former husband.
They loved fish and kept as many as 50 aquariums at one time, she said.
They tried to run a pet store out of their home but without much luck. Eventually they reached their dream of living in Fairwood and opened the store.
In preparation for opening a business, they bred their own birds.
She turned two bedrooms into aviaries, which hosted as many as 500 birds. They sold them all at their new store.
In 1988, she divorced and moved the Pet Center to her current location.
Since, she's expanded the store four times, more than quadrupling its size.
"I feel proud. I feel it's a great accomplishment," she said. "I say, come celebrate with me."