Optimist takes on a pet project

Dissatisfaction with a chain store leads ex-software engineer into retail

May 17, 2006|By KAREN NITKIN | KAREN NITKIN,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Visitors to The Yuppy Puppy, an Ellicott City boutique for pets that have everything, are typically welcomed by two tiny balls of canine enthusiasm.

Recently, Ellie, a mix of toy fox terrier and Chihuahua, was wearing a "snoozle," which is sort of like a bandanna, as well as a shirt with the words "desperate housedogs" spelled out in sparkling studs. Brendle, a Maltese, wore a harlequin-style collar with points of colorful fabric around her face, and a shirt that said "spoiled."

Owner Holly Hoenes, who opened the Main Street store about a year and a half ago, said that Brendle is her dog, but she is taking care of Ellie for a friend. She used to have another Maltese, Chloe, but she died in August. Now, Hoenes is wondering if another dog will wander into her life.

Hoenes, a former software engineer, has an optimist's belief that things will somehow work out for the best. She opened The Yuppy Puppy Pet Boutique almost on a whim, after disliking her experience at a large chain pet store.

She had gone to the store in search of dog beds and collars, but she disliked the merchandise there, she said. So she went online, found some things she thought she liked better and placed orders. But those were not right either, and she resented the hassle of returning the mail-order merchandise. That experience, she said, "just inspired me to open this store."

Within a week, Hoenes, who grew up in Howard County and graduated from Centennial High School in 1988, had signed a lease. Within two weeks, she had flown to Chicago to attend the HH Backer Annual Pet Industry Christmas Trade Show and Educational Conference, one of the largest shows in the pet store business. "I just really felt confident that it would be a success," she said.

She opened the store Nov. 13, 2004, barely a month after her unsuccessful chain-store experience and just in time for holiday shopping. The Yuppy Puppy has been so successful, she said, that she is thinking of franchising the concept.

Hoenes noted that pets are more popular than ever, largely because of their therapeutic qualities. (Petting them is good for mental health, walking them is good for physical health.) And it doesn't hurt that celebrities such as Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie seem to take their tiny pooches everywhere.

Hoenes said she has been surprised by the popularity of some items, such as a $199 stroller for dogs. She said she has sold at least 20 and has one herself. They're ideal for runners whose dogs can't keep up, she said, or for people who want to give their cats fresh air. "A lot of people want to take their cats out," she said.

She has sold five of the $299 "SUV" version of the stroller, for dogs that weigh more than 50 pounds, she said.

Hoenes said most of her customers are women, and the pink-painted interior of the store reflects that. "I spend the whole day here," she said. "I wanted it to look cute."

Handbags that hold tiny dogs cost more than $100, but most of her wares are considerably less expensive. Among the most popular are chew toys in the shapes of politicians, including Hillary Rodham Clinton and President Bush.

Word play seems to be big in the animal world. A chew toy shaped like a cell phone is called Grrizon, while another shaped like a Tiffany box is called Sniffany.

The Yuppy Puppy also sells dog cookies, ranging from $1.50 for a chicken-flavored cupcake to $3 for a cookie in the shape of a baseball. And, of course, pet clothing, including hand-knit sweaters, coats, hats and booties. "Doggles," which are goggles for dogs, retail for $19.75 and come in handy "for protecting their eyes" when they put their heads out a vehicle window, Hoenes said.

The Yuppy Puppy sells gifts for dog lovers, such as mugs and embroidered pillows bearing the faces of different breeds. On a recent day, two couples wandered in, looking for pillows with beagles on them. After searching, they left empty-handed, though impressed. "I'm sure [the store] will attract a lot of dog lovers," said Betty McEvoy of Laurel.

On June 11, the Yuppy Puppy is hosting an event called a Dog's Day in Ellicott City, which will be held at the B&O Museum Park. A pet parade, pet-owner look-alike contest, a waggiest-tail contest, clinics on grooming, and other activities are planned.

Max Maczis, manager of Caplan's, the antiques store across the street from the Yuppy Puppy, said the store is a welcome addition to Main Street. He said he has bought a few things there for his Maltese dogs, he said.

"She's got a lot of really nice items over there," he said. "I think it's a pretty popular shop. I always see a lot of traffic going in there."

The Yuppy Puppy Pet Boutique is at 8120 Main St., Ellicott City. The telephone number is 410-750-9663.

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