The Purrfect Indicator

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It is good to be a dog in parts of Brooklyn these days. Or a cat. Or maybe a snake or a canary. Local pet-care stores say business is booming, matching a national trend that is bucking the trend of a generally slow economy.

In 2010 the American Pet Products Association declared the pet industry nationwide as recession proof. Despite a troubled economy, the industry skyrocketed from a $37.7 billion market to over $41 billion between 2009 and 2011, and the association is confident that number will continue to rise this year. It projects that the American pet industry will be worth over $62 billion by 2014.

“The difference is that pet owners now see their pets as children,” says a representative of the association, Brooke Gerisch. And while New Yorkers may be cutting personal costs, it seems that the dogs are having their day here, too, at least in some neighborhoods.

To 27-year-old David Billouta, junior store manager at the NYC Pet store, 241 Bedford in Williamsburg, the American Pet Products Association figures are not surprising. ““In the past three years business has been booming,” he says. “Sundays are the busiest days,” he adds. “We have over 200 customers normally, and at the end of the day we make double or three times a regular day.”

The gentrification of up-and-coming Williamsburg has made it a popular choice for New Yorkers who seem to celebrate their slightly more spacious and cheaper Brooklyn apartments by spending on more pets and pampering them, Billouta says. “Having pets is a big trend here,” he says. “Most of the people who live around here are young and busy, so I think they adopt pets to keep them company.”

Pet expenses rose from 0.9 percent of household budgets to 1.4 percent from 1989 to 2009 nationally, and more than 62 percent of American households have furry companions, the association says. Brooklyn seems to be part of that trend. NYC Pet has just recently opened a new store on Driggs Ave. in Williamsburg this year, giving the retailer a total of 7 stores throughout the borough. “Brooklyn is full of pet stores and we all do really well,” Billouta says.

Likewise, local Brooklyn grooming and retailer, PetSmart, is also boasting record revenue. At 238 Atlantic Ave. Assistant manager Mario Rodriuguez has been helping to manage the store since it’s opening in November of 2011. “We weren’t expecting particularly high numbers right when we opened,” Rodriguez says. “But revenue has exceeded our expectations by almost 40 percent of what we had projected. At the moment we are making over $60,000 a week.” He believes the numbers will continue to rise.

Rodriguez attributes success to a “friendly” and “warm” neighborhood, where residents have space to keep and care for their companions. “Our customers are definitely not cutting back on their pets,” he insists. “They treat their pets as if they were their own children. It’s great.”

As more and more pampered pets romp around Brooklyn, they are also becoming the targets of thieves. Puppy thefts are on the rise–a Yorkie puppy was stolen last week from a pet store near Brooklyn College.

Brooklyn’s pet business may be booming, but  pet-care stories are not faring well everywhere in New York City. On the Upper East Side, Sutton Pet parlor owner Marcia Habib says that her good years have been over for a long time. “I remember when I first started my business in 1995,” Habib says, contemplating faded photos of her favorite four-pawed customers in her parlor at 311 East 60th street. “The upper East Side was booming, I had some many regular customers who came 2 or 3 times a week to groom their pets. I really thought my business would do well.”

Habib is the owner—and now the sole remaining worker out of an original team of five—at the Sutton Dog parlor. “I am totally bankrupt” she says, “I placed every dime I ever owned in this business. I haven’t taken a paycheck in over a year now. I will have to close my doors any day now.”

In contrast to NYC Pet, Habib says that she has some tw dozen customers on a good day, even though she offers a greater variety of services. A declining customer base means that Habib must also lower her rates. The going rate boarding is about $25 per day across the city she says, but some of Habib’s customers can only pay her $10, she explains. “The Upper East Side is just too expensive and many of my customers have moved away,” she says, “I try to keep the ones who have stayed coming back, but they have all cut down their visits.” Habib worries that she will not make the $8000 rent payment this month.

A spokesperson for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), which runs a pet shelter at 494 E 92nd St., between 1st avenue and York, concurs that the pet trend seems to have slowed down in the Upper East Side. “Adoptions were down 5 percent  to 10 percent,” a spokesperson for the ASPCA said. “We believe that this is because of the bad economy.”

Some Upper East Side pet entrepreneurs may be having a rough time, but the American Pet Products Association claims that overall, the economy has not influenced New Yorkers’ decisions to own a pet in 2011. In the city, “anywhere from 2 percent  to 5 percent of pet owners report spending more money on their pet,” Gerisch says.

Billouta, at NYC Pet, jokes that his clients seem to spend more on their life companions than on themselves. “Our best selling products right now are the organic food, dry or wet,” he says. “But our customers don’t seem to care much about the prices.” NYC Pets’ most expensive product, a “fulminator brush,” which costs $60, is a popular item, Billouta says.

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